Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Using Cameras and Projectors to Hide a Tank

British Army tests James Bond style tank that is 'invisible'

Last updated at 11:56am on 30th October 2007

In secret trials last week, the Army said it had made a vehicle completely disappear and predicted that an invisible tank would be ready for service by 2012. The new technology uses cameras and projectors to beam images of the surrounding landscape onto a tank.

Now you see it: How the tank might look with background images beamed onto the side
The result is that anyone looking in the direction of the vehicle only sees what is beyond it and not the tank itself.

A soldier, who was at the trials, said: "This technology is incredible. If I hadn't been present I wouldn't have believed it. I looked across the fields and just saw grass and trees - but in reality I was staring down the barrel of a tank gun."
How the technology works in a combat situation is very sensitive, but the MoD is believed to be testing a military jacket that works on the same principles.

It is the type of innovation normally associated with James Bond, and the brains behind the latest technology is the MoD's very own "Q" - Professor Sir John Pendry, of Imperial College London.

He said the only drawback was the reliability of the cameras and projectors.

But he added: "The next stage is to make the tank invisible without them - which is intricate and complicated, but possible."

Great Article on Control Room Design

The Changing Face of Control Room Design
Ergonomic control room design focuses on achieving performance objectives for the control room while meeting established ergonomic standards for interactions between occupants, workstations, machines, and workplace environments. Every interaction must be considered, from raised flooring, acoustics, and lighting to the general well-being, health, safety, and performance of control room operators.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy Halloween- Strange White Space Story

White Space Testing Postponed

Washington, DC (October 29, 2007)

On Friday, October 5th, the FCC issued a public notice announcing that further testing of new proposed "White Spaces" devices will continue at an undisclosed date. The edict, which effectively rescinded a self-imposed deadline made by the Commission promising that new White Spaces regulations would be revealed later in the same month, gives a second chance to companies including Microsoft, Dell, Intel, and Philips to secure a place within TV bandwidths for a new generation of portable, spectrum-seeking communications devices.

This "do-over", if you will, comes on the heels of the FCC's first White Spaces interference studies, which demonstrated in July that prototype devices submitted for testing by Microsoft and Philips failed to detect both wireless microphone operations and DTV channels, and caused interference with the transmissions of both. Claiming that the testing was flawed, and that one of the devices was malfunctioning, Microsoft and Philips pressed for further testing.

Now, with more trials on the horizon, it still remains to be seen what exactly is in store for users of wireless microphones in days to come.

One individual with a vested interest in the debate is Shure's Edgar Reihl, a technology director in advanced development at the Niles, IL-based company. Reihl, who has been following the controversy closely for almost four years, making frequent trips to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of wireless microphone users and manufacturers in front of both members of Congress and the FCC, is currently in the process of developing a set of proposed testing procedures that will be submitted to the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology.

"At this point in time, the FCC hasn't set forth any specific goals, standards, or even expectations for the next round of testing," he explained in the closing days of October. "Like other interested parties, Shure has been invited to help in the process of formulating workable testing procedures. We've also been asked to assist in obtaining the equipment needed for the tests. It's our expectation that some of us from Shure will be allowed to go observe and participate in the testing itself to whatever extent the FCC will allow, and prior to that, we will submit our own test plan, which I'm working on right now."

Reihl relates that his test procedures will call for both laboratory and real world field studies in which wireless microphones will be tested both on their own and alongside the new White Spaces prototypes in combination with DTV signals. The tests will focus specifically on the ability of the proposed new devices to detect signals coming from a wireless mic, as well as what actions to avoid interference the spectrum-sensing devices will take when they meet up with a wireless signal."

This kind of testing places a lot of stress on the new White Spaces devices, in that it's requiring them to handle a pretty wide, dynamic range," he says. "On the one hand, you're asking them to detect and adjust for DTV signals, which are very strong, and on the other, we're asking that the same be done for wireless microphone signals, which are rather weak by comparison. In an ideal testing scenario, more than one wireless microphone signal will be present, as will more than one DTV signal. The prototypes have to be capable of accurately detecting how many wireless mics are operating in the bandwidths, and these tests need to be performed across a wide range of different situations."

Given high priority within Reihl's proposal to the FCC is a battery of outdoor tests conducted at a sporting event that will most likely be a football game. Challenging on a number of levels because of the imposing size of environment involved, these tests will also be exposed to a multitude of additional TV and other signals not present within the indoor confines of the laboratory.

As for what the next generation of new prototype White Spaces devices will look like, Reihl can only speculate. "This time, they are going to be careful to make sure things are operational, properly configured and fully functional," he believes. "I don't believe we are going to see the kind of high-level, intelligent devices that we'd like to see just yet. The first step is to get these new offerings to detect wireless microphone signals properly. Once that's accomplished, then the next step is to determine how they are going to respond in kind."

The public notice issued last month by the FCC calling for more White Spaces study makes no mention of when the new testing may occur, how long it will take or when a ruling can be expected on the issue, nor does it technically reveal what exactly will be tested, calling instead for interested parties to contact the Commission if they have a device they want evaluated.

Toshiba Paid Paramount for HD DVD Support, But How Much?

Paramount Was Paid for HD DVD Support, Toshiba Executive Says

BERLIN -- Toshiba promised Paramount and DreamWorksAnimation "some money" to cover costs "to jointly promote" their titles, in a deal for the studios to support HD DVD and not Blu-ray, Toshiba's top HD DVD executive told Consumer Electronics Daily at IFA Friday. But reports that Toshiba paid the studios $150 million for their support are "totally wrong," Yoshihide Fujii, CEO of Toshiba's Digital Network Co., said without elaborating.

A studio would be "stupid" to accept money to back "the wrong product," Fujii said. "Sooner or later," Paramount and DreamWorks Animation would realize HD DVD "is the wrong product," if that was so, and if the endorsements were based only on payments, he said. "Only because they feel this is the right product" did Paramount and DreamWorks Animation agree to back HD DVD exclusively, Fujii said. "This is a fact," he declared.

Leopard vs. Vista

Suprisingly close... 46 to 41.
Read the article to find out which one won.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Guitar Center Sold to Private Investment Firm

Guitar Center will no longer be publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange following the firm’s acquisition by Bain Capital, a Boston-based private investment firm. California-based Guitar Center agreed to the sale in June. Stockholders approved the merger on Sept. 18 and consummated Oct. 10.

Under terms of the agreement, Guitar Center shareholders will be paid $63 in cash for each share of common stock held, putting the value of the purchase at approximately $2.1 billion. Guitar Center is one of the largest U.S. retailers of musical instruments, pro audio and recording equipment, with 157 stores in 83 markets, plus online and mail order sales. Bain Capital has approximately $50 billion in assets under management.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Company You Never Heard of but Probably Hated Shuts Down

Friday, October 26, 2007 by Wendy Davis

Infamous adware purveyor Direct Revenue appears to have shuttered for good. Visitors to the Web page of its most recent brand,, are now being greeted with the message that Direct Revenue has ceased operations. The page also offers instructions for removing the company's software, which serves pop-up ads to people as they surf the Web.

The news comes several months after the company and its principals settled with the Federal Trade Commission for $1.5 million -- an amount deemed too small by FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz, who filed a written dissent from the agency's decision to accept the agreement.
Direct Revenue was long criticized by consumer advocates, who charged that the company got its software on people's hard drives via drive-by installations and other improper techniques.

Yet, while few companies admitted to using adware in their marketing efforts, Direct Revenue made millions upon millions of dollars while in business. Some of its big brand clients included Cingular Wireless, Travelocity and Priceline -- all named by the New York State Attorney General, who sued Direct Revenue last year. Those three also settled with the New York Attorney General, with Priceline and Cingular paying $35,000 each and Travelocity paying $30,000.

Depositions in the New York case against Direct Revenue also showed that the company's adware model, which relied on serving numerous pop-ups to consumers, troubled even some of the its business partners, including file-sharing service Kazaa. Company officer Daniel Kaufman complained in an August 2005 internal e-mail of having a "difficult call" with Kazaa. "Part of the trouble is that they have been living with our ad client for a while and feeling first-hand the user experience."

Even though Direct Revenue is seemingly out of business, some anti-spyware experts are skeptical that the adware company is gone for good. "With the history of the four principal figures behind Direct Revenue it may be too soon to completely write them off," Eric Howes, director of malware research at software security company Sunbelt, told Mediapost. "It would be wise to keep an eye out."

Monday, October 22, 2007


SanDisk to Debut USB Drive, Video Service

10.22.07, 7:36 AM ET

SAN JOSE, Calif. -

Flash memory maker SanDisk Corp. on Monday will debut an online video service and a USB flash drive that can carry television programs and videos from a computer for playback on TVs.

The Sansa TakeTV video player - an ensemble of an oversized USB drive, remote control and a small dock that connects to a TV - and its accompanying video service, Fanfare, marks the latest attempt by a company looking to bridge content between the PC and the television.

Similar to using a USB drive to store and move data files, users of TakeTV can drag-and-drop video files stored on their computer - Fanfare downloads, home videos or other unrestricted video content from the Web - onto the device. Users can then plug it into the cradle connected to a TV. A simple menu appears on the TV to scroll through the files for playback.

The TakeTV player is $99.99 for a 4 gigabyte model and $149.99 for an 8 GB one that can hold up to 10 hours of video. Fanfare, in a test stage, offers premium TV shows for $1.99 per download - roughly the same price as rival services, but SanDisk (nasdaq: SNDK - news - people ) says it hopes to ultimately provide a broad mixture of free and ad-supported content as well as pay-per-download videos.

Fanfare's catalog at launch is small, with about 85 titles. It features TV shows from CBS (nyse: CBS - news - people ), including "CSI" and "Survivor," Showtime, TV Guide, and Smithsonian Networks. Dozens of titles are being added each week, SanDisk said.

The online video service is a new venture for Milpitas-based SanDisk, which is the leading maker of flash memory cards and holds a distant but steady second-place position behind Apple Inc. (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ) in the portable media player market with a 10 percent share in the U.S., according to market researcher IDC.

SanDisk saw an opportunity in the fledgling market it didn't want to pass up, said Kate Purmal, senior vice president and general manager of SanDisk's digital content unit.

The distribution of videos, movies and television shows over the Internet is expected to grow as companies ranging from Apple and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (nyse: WMT - news - people ) to the TV networks themselves compete for the audience. The various methods of getting the video from over the Internet onto the TV, however, has yet to become easy or cheap enough for the mainstream market.

CBS Corp., one of SanDisk's first major partners, found in its consumer research of the TakeTV product that people liked its simplicity, compact size, and price, said David Poltrack, president of CBS Vision.

SanDisk will need to build a larger video catalog to succeed, said Danielle Levitas, analyst at IDC.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Harman Takeover Canceled, Fight Avoided

October 22, 2007 6:36 a.m.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. terminated their $8 billion takeover for Harman International Industries Inc., with the two sides agreeing to a far more modest investment that will spare litigation.

Under the agreement, KKR and Goldman's private-equity arm will buy $400 million worth of Harman convertible debt securities. These securities will pay out 1.25% in interest annually, and will be convertible into Harman stock should its shares reach $104 each sometime over the next five years. Harman shares were at $86.40, down $1.18, in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading Friday.

KKR and Goldman won't have to pay the $225 million termination fee called for under the original deal. KKR partner Brian Carroll will also be added to Harman's board.

Harman is just one of many private-equity deals to have been caught in a financial netherworld, where buyers have soured on announced transactions, and are either unable or unwilling to fund their commitments.

The most prominent of these situations is the increasingly bitter feud over student lender SLM Corp. In that case, a $25 billion agreement by buyers J.C. Flowers & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and Bank of America, has landed in the Delaware courts.

While the rhetoric of the SLM case has become increasingly hostile, the case of Harman suggests that corporate boards can be practical-minded. "There were no positive outcomes here," said one person involved in the recent Harman negotiations. "The bottom line is what do you want to do to make shareholders the most amount of money over time?"

The Harman agreement is something of a realpolitik solution to what could have been a nasty confrontation between buyer and seller. In April, KKR and Goldman were prepared to pay $120 per share for the well-known maker of audio equipment. But changes in Harman's business results spooked KKR and Goldman, whose damages for breaking the deal were capped at $225 million.

The agreement may not be enough to placate some shareholders. Where Harman was once valued at $8 billion by its suitors, it now carries a market capitalization of $5.6 billion.

Proceeds from the convertible offering will be used to buy back stock, and therefore placate some shareholders.

The agreement spares months of litigation for the Washington, D.C.-based company. A court case would have been unavoidable should Harman have hoped to collect the termination fee. KKR and Goldman were prepared to assert that Harman's business had changed so materially that they didn't need to pay it.

People close to both sides of the Harman transaction said they didn't want to spend tens of millions of dollars for attorneys' fees. Nor were Harman officials keen on dragging the minutiae of their business into public view, said two people familiar with company's thinking.

Write to Dennis K. Berman at

Friday, October 19, 2007

Comcast No Longer Net Neutral?

Ja Wohl, Herr Kommisar!

How dumb are these guys?

By Peter Svensson

NEW YORK - Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.

If widely applied by other ISPs, the technology Comcast is using would be a crippling blow to the BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella file-sharing networks. While these are mainly known as sources of copyright music, software and movies, BitTorrent in particular is emerging as a legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content.

The principle of equal treatment of traffic, called "Net Neutrality" by proponents, is not enshrined in law but supported by some regulations. Most of the debate around the issue has centered on tentative plans, now postponed, by large Internet carriers to offer preferential treatment of traffic from certain content providers for a fee.

Comcast's interference, on the other hand, appears to be an aggressive way of managing its network to keep file-sharing traffic from swallowing too much bandwidth and affecting the Internet speeds of other subscribers.

Number two providerComcast, the nation's largest cable TV operator and No. 2 Internet provider, would not specifically address the practice, but spokesman Charlie Douglas confirmed that it uses sophisticated methods to keep Net connections running smoothly.

"Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent," he said.

Douglas would not specify what the company means by "access" — Comcast subscribers can download BitTorrent files without hindrance. Only uploads of complete files are blocked or delayed by the company, as indicated by AP tests.

But with "peer-to-peer" technology, users exchange files with each other, and one person's upload is another's download. That means Comcast's blocking of certain uploads has repercussions in the global network of file sharers.

Comcast's technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.

Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer — it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: "Sorry, I have to hang up. Good bye."

Matthew Elvey, a Comcast subscriber in the San Francisco area who has noticed BitTorrent uploads being stifled, acknowledged that the company has the right to manage its network, but disapproves of the method, saying it appears to be deceptive.

"There's the wrong way of going about that and the right way," said Elvey, who is a computer consultant.

All types of contentComcast's interference affects all types of content, meaning that, for instance, an independent movie producer who wanted to distribute his work using BitTorrent and his Comcast connection could find that difficult or impossible — as would someone pirating music.

Internet service providers have long complained about the vast amounts of traffic generated by a small number of subscribers who are avid users of file-sharing programs. Peer-to-peer applications account for between 50 percent and 90 percent of overall Internet traffic, according to a survey this year by ipoque GmbH, a German vendor of traffic-management equipment.

"We have a responsibility to manage our network to ensure all our customers have the best broadband experience possible," Douglas said. "This means we use the latest technologies to manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers."

The practice of managing the flow of Internet data is known as "traffic shaping," and is already widespread among Internet service providers. It usually involves slowing down some forms of traffic, like file-sharing, while giving others priority. Other ISPs have attempted to block some file-sharing application by so-called "port filtering," but that method is easily circumvented and now largely ineffective.

Comcast's approach to traffic shaping is different because of the drastic effect it has on one type of traffic — in some cases blocking it rather than slowing it down — and the method used, which is difficult to circumvent and involves the company falsifying network traffic.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blu-ray Doesn't Like Spidey 3?

Spider-man 3 on Blu-ray is one of the Holiday season’s most highly anticipated releases on the 1080p high definition Blu-ray format but early adopters may have problems playing the disc in many of today’s Blu-ray players.

Using a review copy of "Spider-man 3" on Blu-ray on local tests at, the disc struggled to play in the brand new Samsung BD-P1400.

After an excruciatingly long load-up time, the disc starts to freeze and skip from the very start. Audio dropping out, picture stuttering, you name it. Compared to the mainstream consumer’s expectation for DVD playback, most couldn’t make it to the actual film.

According to various reports, other players including units from Sony, Pioneer and other stand-alone Blu-ray players are reportedly having issues with the blockbuster and feature laden HD release.

Playstation 3 does come to the rescue. The game machine plays the disc like a champ. Although one of the first Blu-ray players on the market, the Sony Playstation 3 is without question the most reliable Blu-ray player on the market. While a game machine isn’t suited for many home theater applications, the lack of format incompatibilities paired with a low entry price makes the Playstation 3 the way many enthusiasts test the waters in a ferocious HD disc format war.

The release of Spider-man 3 on Blu-ray isn’t the first time that new blockbuster Blu-ray title has failed to play on existing machines. When "Pirates Of The Caribbean" 1 and 2 were released by Disney/Buena Vista, there was hardly a player out that could play the movies. All the first generation Blu-ray players required an immediate firmware update which requires a DVD-R disc being burnt on a PC and run on a machine or the units to be connected directly to the Internet.

Each and every one of the reviewers and editors who were using the Samsung BDP-1000 were unable to play new Pirates Blu-ray discs without the firmware update. The new BD-Java encoding of disc (which was necessary for the interactive Liar's Dice game) ironically prevented the movie from playing. So a consumer pays $30 for a disc to watch the movie, and the bonus features of the disc make it not play at all. How intuitive is that?"

Pirates Of The Caribbean" wasn’t the end of Blu-ray titles being released and failing in many of the early players. Most recently, FOX released "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer" on Blu-ray. Both of these titles played on less than a handful of the players out there. Again, now it was the BD+ encoding of these discs reportedly that affected successful playback. A firmware update was needed by Samsung for the BDP-1000, which reportedly loaded the movie in an agonizing five plus minutes and then played the movie with more than its fair share of jitter, skipping, and freezing.

The Samsung BD-P1200 reportedly did not play the movies at all. After inserting either of the discs, a screen appeared that stated the player could not play the discs and that a firmware upgrade was needed. Some of the newer players did better with the Fox and Disney titles. Playstation 3 still remains the most stable of the available players.

Consumers are struggling to understand why they need an HD disc player when DVDs work perfectly well in their systems. The difference between DVD and HD discs need to be seen and heard and then the upgrade is obvious. What is also obvious is the need for the Blu-ray camp to get their standards more stable so that studios can release top titles that work with relatively manageable number of Blu-ray players on the market. While the Playstation 3 is a tempting audience – it's not the only audience. A guy who drops $799 on a "top of the line" Blu-ray player, hooks it up via HDMI and is looking to the best video currently available doesn’t want to hear that his player won't play that latest disc or that he needs to spend hours burning and running firmware update discs before he can watch a new Blu-ray film.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Apple Reverses Position on iPhone Software

Can't wait to see the iPhone based audio and video tools that will be developed.

October 17, 2007 11:52 a.m.

Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs said the company will allow software developers to make so-called native applications for the iPhone, reversing a position that had caused a flood of criticism from independent software makers.

In a letter posted on Apple's Web site Wednesday morning, Mr. Jobs said the company will release early next year a software development kit, or SDK, a necessary set of tools that will enable programmers to make iPhone applications. "Let me just say it: We want native third-party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers' hands in February," Mr. Jobs said.

Previously, Apple had told programmers it would limit the iPhone applications they could create to those that run through the product's Web browser, a policy that precluded independent programs that could be stored locally on the iPhone, providing superior performance and features. The policy prompted some independent developers to accuse Apple of trying to exert too much control over the software that runs on the iPhone. Apple said it was restricting the kinds of iPhone software programmers could make to prevent viruses and other forms of malicious code from infecting iPhones.

Some developers found methods of creating native iPhone applications anyway. Apple, though, recently said such unauthorized software installed on iPhones could create permanent problems for the devices after user installed future software updates from Apple.

In his letter, Mr. Jobs said the iPhone software development kit will take until February because the company is "trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once -- provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc."

"This is no easy task," he continued. "Some claim that viruses and malware are not a problem on mobile phones -- this is simply not true. There have been serious viruses on other mobile phones already, including some that silently spread from phone to phone over the cell network. As our phones become more powerful, these malicious programs will become more dangerous. And since the iPhone is the most advanced phone ever, it will be a highly visible target."

Mr. Jobs said the software development kit will also allow developers to create applications for the new iPod touch.

Write to Nick Wingfield at

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Google Unveils Copyright Filtering Progam

Amazing what a billion dollar lawsuit can get you to do...

As promised in court this summer, Google has unveiled a new plan designed to weed out copyrighted clips from video-sharing site YouTube.

The Video ID system requires copyright owners to submit their material to Google and tell the company what they want done with the clips. Owners can choose to have Google monetize the material and share revenue, promote the clips or block them altogether.

"As copyright holders make their preferences clear to us up front, we'll do our best to automate that choice while balancing the rights of users, other copyright holders, and our community as a whole," YouTube stated in a blog post about the new plan.

Google attorney Philp Beck outlined plans for this system in court in July, during a scheduling conference in the $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Viacom. And, while Viacom might still proceed with its case, harnessing YouTube to promote Viacom material and/or share ad revenue seems like a far shrewder strategy.

Of course, Google's new system still requires a great deal of labor on the part of copyright holders. Simply uploading all of the TV shows, movies and music videos that they wish to block or claim for themselves is itself a mammoth task. On top of that, the content owners will have to continue to monitor the site for bootleg copies that users have posted -- such as the live concert footage that triggered a threatened lawsuit by Prince.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Muvico Installs Sony 4K Projector System

For Muvico, a New 4K Projector Installation Goes Way Beyond Movies

With Help From Sony, Theater Chain Looks to Beat the Competition by Screening Alternative Content
By Bryant Frazer
September 11, 2007
Source: Film & Video
Large companies like Sony that attempt to straddle multiple markets and business models are often criticized as corporate Frankenstein's monsters — struggling against myriad complications to bring interests in content, professional gear, and consumer products into alignment. That tendency makes the deal recently announced between Sony and Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based movie-theater chain Muvico Entertainment — which has installed 4K SXRD projectors on all 18 screens in a new suburban Chicago location, bringing Sony's installed base of 4K projectors close to 40 — more intriguing. Muvico isn't just buying projection from Sony; it's offering PlayStation gaming in a "Teen Cafe" where kids can hang out before or after shows, and VAIO computers in a children's playroom. Meanwhile, Muvico intends to secure alternative programming for its digital screenings in part by working with artists signed to Sony Music labels. F&V spoke to Andrew Stucker, director of Sony's digital cinema systems group, about 4K projection technology, and to Michael Whalen, President and CEO of Muvico, about their hopes for making the investment pay off.

Red 4K Camera Gets Final Cut Support Soon

The Red 4K Camera will soon have Final Cut Pro Support...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Boss Won't Let You IM?

Don't Tell Your Boss,
But There Is a Way to IM Despite Blocks

By SARMAD ALI October 11, 2007; Page B1

Does your company stop you from downloading instant-messaging software in an effort to keep you from wasting precious time? Well, there's a way to get around company barriers so you can chat away with family and friends.

Just use an Internet-based service so that you can chat from a Web page without having to install any software, which might be blocked by a firewall. I tested two such services: Meebo at and KoolIM at Both are free.

These services let you simultaneously log in to multiple IM accounts -- and communicate with people with various services. If you have a friend who uses Yahoo Messenger, for example, and another who likes MSN Messenger, you can chat with either.

Another plus: Meebo and KoolIM are far less vulnerable to viruses than downloadable applications. They're also more efficient, saving users the hassle of installing multiple programs on a computer. This is especially handy for people with old computers that slow down when running several applications.

Meebo has a well-designed, sleek interface that makes it appealing to even the least tech savvy. From its home page, you simply sign in for different IM services—MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, GTalk (or Jabber) and AIM (or ICQ). Your buddy list will be combined automatically. You don't have to register, but if you do, you get perks such as a single sign-on for all of your accounts, and the ability to share files, save chat logs and store conversations.

I tried Meebo on my work Windows PC and my iBook at home, and it worked well on both. To start chatting, you just log in to any of the IM services by entering the screen name and password you already have with a service, or by picking a new name, password and services. Your buddy list will appear in a window on the right side of the page, with each name marked by an icon denoting the service the person uses. Once in your buddy list, you can add or delete a contact, message or join a group chat.

The service also offers MeeboMe, a way to chat from your own Web site. Bloggers can use this to start a conversation with site visitors who log in to their Meebo account. It also shows how many users are on the site at any time.

But Meebo, like most such Web services, lacks the ability for audio and video chats -- basic features on installed IM software. If you're used to plugging in a Webcam and headgear to chat with friends, these services might not be for you. Meebo also doesn't have the standard send button that's on installed IM software. Instead, you press a key on your keyboard.

Sharing files using Meebo is tricky, too. Only Meebo account holders can send files; although
anyone can receive them. When I sent a PDF file to my friend on her installed MSN Messenger, she received a message and a link that rerouted her to Meebo's home page with no further guidance. When I sent her the same file after she logged in to her MSN using Meebo, she could open the file.

KoolIM also connects users to multiple IM accounts from one Web page. It gives you the option to create an online account, so you don't need separate log-ins for each IM service you'll encounter.

You can select an embedded or a pop-up version of the service. The embedded version shows your buddy list and messages as windows tied to a Web page, while the pop-up version lets you move the windows around the screen. You can choose to display all of your buddies or only the ones online. In your buddy-list window you can add and delete names and log in to or out of a service.

I didn't like having text ads appear at the bottom of the IM window in KoolIM, or the fact that, unlike Meebo, there isn't a time stamp on messages to tell you when they arrived. It also doesn't allow you to send files, as Meebo does. And it doesn't let you save conversations or chat logs. KoolIM's lack of some of these basic features might make it less appealing to consumers, especially those who ponder swapping it with their desktop software.

I preferred Meebo, but both services are good alternatives to installed IM, if you're willing to do without audio and video features.

• Email me at

Your Tax Dollars at Work, Part 174

Cashing In on TV Switch

By SHIRA OVIDE October 11, 2007; Page B5

As the era of aluminum-wrapped rabbit ears nears an end in the U.S., RCA and Zenith are planning a comeback.

Two of television's oldest brands are expected to play a major role as TV converts to digital-only broadcasts in early 2009.

The switch away from traditional analog signals may be the most significant TV change since the introduction of color. Tens of millions of Americans need an upgrade to go digital. To ease the burden, the government set aside $1.5 billion to subsidize devices that make old TVs digital-capable. The converter boxes are slated to hit retail shelves early next year.

The potential market is sizable because more than 69 million TV sets, by some estimates, rely on rabbit ears or rooftop antennas. Without the converter boxes, those TV sets will be useless after Feb. 17, 2009, the mandated end to more than 70 years of U.S. analog transmissions. The majority of Americans -- who have TV sets connected to cable, satellite or other pay services -- will be unaffected, as will people with high-definition or other TVs with built-in digital tuners.

The digital changeover could sow confusion because the converter boxes have to be able to work with TVs spanning decades. Technical glitches could frustrate converter-box buyers, many of whom are expected to be older or not tech-savvy.

To keep old-fashioned sets going, starting Jan. 1, each U.S. household will be eligible for two subsidized converter boxes. Before a $40 coupon, each government-approved gadget is expected to retail for $50 to $70. A division of the Commerce Department is responsible for running the coupon program.

The digital converter boxes essentially are a stripped-down cousin of the cable set-top box. About the size of a VHS videotape, the converters connect the TV set and an existing antenna to help analog sets decode digital signals.

Years of design are packed into a small package. The converter boxes are required to have features including a remote control, parent-control settings and closed captioning. Some manufacturers are putting in on-screen program guides similar to ones provided by cable and satellite operators.

The government expects to make 22.5 million coupons available during an initial phase, with at least an additional 11.25 million expected to be issued later. If 34 million units sell, it would be double the number of high-definition TV sets expected to be sold this year.

"The market is sizable, so somebody is going to make out pretty well," said Afzaal Akhtar, a partner with IBB Consulting, a media and technology consulting firm.

Among those hoping to cash in are LG Electronics Inc. of South Korea and Thomson SA of France. Both companies are busy manufacturing converter boxes and have decided to hearken back to iconic TV names: Zenith and RCA. For LG, which bought Zenith nearly a decade ago, "it made sense to capitalize on this well-known American brand," said John Taylor, vice president for public affairs and communications for LG Electronics USA.

Still, converter-box makers are taking a risk. The boxes aren't expected to be high-margin products, and the bulk of them are likely to be sold in just a few months before and after the February 2009 digital switchover.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bear With Me On This One

Harman Industries (owners of JBL) was damaged by a recent KKR buyout attempt when they backed out of the deal, dropping their stock 24% claiming the deal was damaged under a Material Adverse Change (MAC) claim.

Harman gets $225 million from KKR if they can't prove it.

Looks like KKR got spooked selling off debt and began to panic, having nothing to do with their $8 billion Harman sale.

Probably going to get a very nice check accompanied with some sophisticated accounting to boot.

Debt on Sale: Banks
The Leveraged-Loan Machine

October 10, 2007; Page C1 (WSJ)

Against the gloom that descended on credit markets, banks have pulled off a surprising feat: selling $30 billion of loans for leveraged buyouts by offering some unusual bargains. They also accepted losses on the sales.

Now comes the hard part: what to do about the other 90% of the LBO loans in the pipeline.
The deal-spinning machine of private-equity firms, which was in high gear when credit markets seized up over the summer, was one of the first casualties of the credit-market problems. Gone was the buyout shops' access to cheap loans.

Gone, too, even more suddenly, was investor demand for the loans -- and the price for them fell in step. That left Wall Street banks such as Citigroup Inc., Credit Suisse Group and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. holding some $400 billion in debt they had promised as financing for purchases private-equity firms had in the works globally.

Unless the pace of sales quickens in the coming weeks, banks could be stuck holding these hundreds of billions of dollars of loans for months to come -- a big risk if the economy slows and corporate profits weaken. That could reignite tensions with the private-equity firms they have agreed to finance the deals for and increase the possibility of a fire sale to unload the debt.

With the help of a Federal Reserve rate cut a few weeks ago, the banks have defied expectations and managed to sell significant chunks of the debt, including for closely watched deals such as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.'s $26.4 billion buyout of First Data Corp. Banks led by Citigroup and Credit Suisse sold $9.4 billion of loans for that deal to investors -- almost twice as much as they originally planned.

In late September, a $1 billion slug of the debt for Carlyle Group's and Onex Corp's $5.75 billion buyout of Allison Transmission also sold relatively briskly, helped by the same bargain price of 96 cents on the dollar as First Data, according to Standard & Poor's.

Nothing was more telling about the banks' apparent success than the scene at the W Hotel in midtown Manhattan last week. On Oct. 1, dozens of potential lenders crowded into the ballroom of the hotel, where Warburg Pincus was making its pitch for financing a planned $3.67 billion buyout of eye-care firm Bausch & Lomb Inc. The meeting was so crowded, according to people who were there, that the overflow had to be accommodated in an anteroom where a television set was set up.

Yet for all the relief among bankers, the sales haven't come easily -- or profitably. They have offered only the highest-quality portions of the debt for sale, and that at a loss. They have also made concessions that could come back to hurt them, such as selling the debt at a discount while the huge supply raises questions about how long both Wall Street's united front and the upbeat mood will last.

So far, what has been sold is a drop in the bucket. Standard & Poor's Leveraged Commentary & Data estimates that about $30 billion of a total of $310 billion in North American LBO loans have been sold so far. As much as $100 billion in debt is due to come to the market in the next 30 days alone.

"The real story is the next part of the capital structure," says Leon Wagner, chairman of GoldenTree Asset Management LP, a $12 billion alternative investment firm and a large investor in the debt of buyout deals. His firm bought a small piece of the debt of First Data.

A week before the W Hotel presentation, banks successfully orchestrated the sale of the first big chunk of the $24 billion debt for the First Data buyout. They surprised even themselves by selling almost double the amount planned. The bad news: to accomplish that they agreed to sell the debt at 96 cents per dollar, locking in losses after their fees were figured into the deal.

In some cases, private-equity firms whose deals the debt is financing were among the bigger buyers of the debt. KKR, for example, expressed interest in purchasing a large amount of First Data debt, eventually receiving a $400 million allocation, according to people familiar with the deal.

The banks had to work hard to convince investors that they shouldn't wait on the sidelines for a bargain. With Allison Transmission, for example, the banks came up with a promise of 60-day protection on price.

Yet many hedge funds decided to sit on the sidelines, assuming that on day 61, when the guarantee expired, they could pick up the debt for less money in the secondary market. That was one reason the banks had to come up with a longer protection period for First Data.

Still, with investors cautious and still smarting from the credit crunch, moving any of the loans contributed to the impression of a market on the mend.

So far, the deals that have come to market aren't those vulnerable to slowing economic growth. For example, Bausch & Lomb, of Rochester, N.Y., is a health-care company, a sector that is relatively immune to economic cycles. "It is of a size and sector where the capital market has an appetite," says Chris Turner, head of capital markets for Warburg Pincus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lead Phase Out May Destroy Electronics

It would be nice if the EU would send its regulators home for a decade or two. They've often crossed the line between sound policy and protecting their domestic markets with their standards. Remember power factor correction for power amplifiers? The net result was not good for our industry. This one isn't either, and it's nice someone finally wrote about it.

Health fears have cut use of the metal. Without it, tin solder can sprout splinters.

From the Associated Press

October 9, 2007

SAN JOSE -- They've ruined missiles, silenced communications satellites and forced nuclear power plants to shut down. Pacemakers, consumer gadgets and even a crucial part of a space shuttle have fallen victim.The culprits? Tiny splinters -- whiskers, they're called -- that sprout without warning from tin solder and finishes deep inside electronics.

By some estimates, the resulting short circuits have leveled as much as $10 billion in damage since they were first noticed in the 1940s.

Now, some electronics makers worry that the destruction will be more widespread, and the dollar amounts more draining, as the European Union and governments around the world enact laws to eliminate the best-known defense -- lead -- from electronic devices.

"The EU's decision was irresponsible and not based on sound science," said Joe Smetana, a principal engineer and tin whisker expert with French telecommunications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent. "We're solving a problem that isn't and creating a bunch of new ones.

"Typically measuring less than a millimeter long, tin whiskers look like errant strands of static-charged hair, erupting in every direction from tin-based materials such as solder. Their cause is hotly debated. Other metals also grow whiskers, but not like tin.

Trouble arises when the whiskers bridge separate parts of increasingly miniaturized circuit boards. They also can flake off and interfere with sensitive optics.Scientists debate their cause, but they agree on one thing: Small amounts of lead mixed with the tin have been remarkably effective at preventing whisker eruptions for decades.

Lead, however, is a serious health concern. In children, it can cause learning or behavioral problems and has been associated with anemia and kidney problems. In adults, exposure has been linked to high blood pressure and reproductive organ damage.Last year, Europeans barred the toxic metal from most electronics to prevent its being incinerated or accumulating in dumps after computers and other gadgets are tossed out. Similar measures are being considered or are already in place in other countries, including Japan, China, South Korea, Argentina, Australia and the United States.

Some companies say the EU rules threaten the reliability of their products, exposing them to unknown risks and possibly threatening people's safety.But EU officials say the regulations banning lead, cadmium, mercury and three other hazardous substances are needed to protect people and the environment.

They also note that many types of electronics are exempt from the law, including military and other national security equipment, medical devices, data storage computers, servers and telecommunications gear that use leaded solders.

Exemptions are also granted when alternatives to the hazardous materials don't exist yet or when the substances can't be replaced without jeopardizing safety.Still, even some companies with exemptions say it's getting harder to buy the leaded parts. They worry about the increased risk of pure-tin parts, the culprit behind the most devastating tin-whisker-related failures."Over time [the failures] are just going to get worse and worse and worse," said Jim McElroy, executive director of the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative, a group of big electronics makers, government agencies and other parties active in tin whisker research.

"Even if the military is exempt forever, they will be forced to convert because they can't get the components they want," he said. "And that will eventually happen across the board."Tin whiskers have left a trail of destruction in a string of important machinery, chronicled in an extensive database of publicly disclosed failures kept by researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Last year, for example, NASA engineers testing parts for the space shuttle Endeavour discovered that millions of tin whiskers were causing an electronic box to inaccurately point the shuttle's engine, knocking the rocket's trajectory off-kilter, said Henning Leidecker, chief engineer of the electronic parts office of NASA's Goddard center and a tin whisker expert.

It turns out NASA had approved the pure-tin-coated clamps used for holding circuit boards in place back when the electronics were made in the 1980s, before the agency adopted its current rule requiring a small amount of lead in its tin coatings.

"These whiskers have the potential to destroy missions," Leidecker said.Failures blamed on tin whiskers have run the gamut of devices and manufacturers.

In the 1980s, the Food and Drug Administration recalled some pacemakers because of a high failure rate caused by tin whiskers.

In 1998, PanAmSat Corp.'s $250-million Galaxy IV communications satellite, which provided service to tens of millions of pagers across North America and thousands of pay-at-the-pump gasoline station machines, was deemed a total loss after two processors failed. The main spacecraft control processor, which governs the satellite's positioning and other functions, failed for an unknown reason, and the backup couldn't be used because tin whiskers had shorted it out a year before.

At least 10 other satellite failures have been blamed on tin whiskers, according to the NASA database.Over the last two decades, also according to the NASA database, nuclear power plants have been temporarily shut down at least seven times after tin whiskers in the alarm system circuit boards triggered false alarms, alerting managers to threats that didn't exist. There have been no reported injuries."There's a real loss of money because the plant is shut down and stays down, and it also presents a situation where workers are taught not to believe the alarms," Leidecker said. "Are you comfortable with that? I am not."

The military also isn't immune. Tin-whisker-related malfunctions have been reported in the radar used aboard fighter jets and in the target-detection system of certain missiles, along with various unspecified problems in other parts of the U.S. military's missile programs.

Most of those failures involve military secrets and are only known because they're revealed in technical forums by defense contractors, which incur heavy repair expenses for malfunctioning tin-whisker-infested equipment and are active in scientific circles looking for a fix that doesn't involve lead.

Tin whisker experts said the industry was working fast to come up with a lead-free solution. So far, other materials have shown to be effective in preventing tin whiskers, but not as powerfully as lead.

One promising remedy is tin-silver-copper solders, said George Galyon, a senior technical staff member at IBM Corp. Galyon, however, noted that lead-free solders often required much higher temperatures, which can warp circuit boards and cause materials to degrade.

Despite the setbacks, he said, the major players know that anti-lead laws give them no choice.

"It's whistling in the wind if you think we're turning this back," he said. "China's full-bent on it; the major markets are into it. The world flipped over in one fell swoop."

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sanyo's Dinky Full HD Monster

(From T3)

HD1000 takes title of world's smallest full hi-def cammie and heads for the UK.

If you like your gadgets small, then this one's for you. [more images]

If a camcorder the size of a chewing gum pack doesn't tick your high-end gadget box, but you still want something you can lose just as easily, then Sanyo has the answer.
Their new Xacti HD1000 takes the title of the world's smallest full HD sharp shooter. It's a claim every self-respecting cammie manufacturer seems to be falling over themselves to make these days.

For now though, Sanyo has taken the crown. Their new toy weighs in at a paltry 268g, but still manges to pack in 1920x1080p, a 10x optical HD lens and a 1080i sensor.

You can stash up to 85 minutes of hi-def action on an 8GB SD card, all of which can be checked out on the 2.7-inch screen or beamed to your telly thanks to the HDMI output.

The battery will last a lengthy two hours and you can take snaps using the 4-meg camera on board.

It's out here this very month, although Sanyo's remaining tight-lipped about the price.

One for the Christmas list.

Embrace digital or die, EMI told

By Juliette Garside
Last Updated: 11:00pm BST 06/10/2007

The new owner of EMI, Britain's largest music group, has warned that the industry will not survive if it continues to rely on CD sales alone.

Guy Hands, the financier whose private equity group, Terra Firma, bought EMI in August, told staff in a confidential e-mail last week that the industry had been too slow to embrace the digital revolution.

Hands' letter was in response to the decision by Radiohead, one of the biggest bands nurtured by EMI but now out of contract with the label, to release their latest album via the internet and at a price decided by fans.

In the e-mail, sent to staff on Friday, Hands described Radiohead's action as "a wake-up call which we should all welcome and respond to with creativity and energy".

"The recorded music industry... has for too long been dependent on how many CDs can be sold," he wrote. "Rather than embracing digitalisation and the opportunities it brings for promotion of product and distribution through multiple channels, the industry has stuck its head in the sand."

Many record label bosses believe it is the duty of successful bands to stick with the companies that nurtured them so that their earnings can subsidise new talent. However, bands complain that too much of their money is used to subsidise lavish lifestyles for label bosses.

Hands is understood to have been surprised at the size of salaries paid to second-tier executives. On Friday he warned that unless there was a major cultural change, more established bands could follow Radiohead's lead, choosing to cut the label out of the loop and distribute their music directly to consumers.

EMI's biggest names include Robbie Williams, Joss Stone and David Bowie, all of whom are established enough to adopt the Radiohead model. With bands' revenues from playing concerts and festivals overtaking their income from CD sales, the decision to break free has become less risky.

"Why should they subsidise their label's new talent roster – or for that matter their record company's excessive expenditures and advances?" asks Hands.

Radiohead's decision came in the same week that indy -legends The Charlatans decided to give away their new album over the web, also without help from a record label. Tim Burgess, the Charlatans' lead signer, told The Sunday Telegraph: "I want the people to own the music and the artists to own the copyright. Why let a record company get in the way of the music?"

Hands suggests moving away from the model of paying large advances – Robbie Williams signed an £80m deal with EMI in 2002 – in exchange for the label's right to keep the majority of the takings from new releases. Instead, labels could simply subsidise the making of an album or the beginning of a tour in exchange for a share in the profits – or losses.

Hands is understood to have been impressed by the inventiveness of EMI's music publishing division, which owns the copyright to songs, in making money from new sources. It has licensed lyrics to be printed on jeans and posters and music videos to be played on YouTube.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Siemens Fined for Bribery

Many years ago we consulted to an American company that bid on projects against Siemens in the world market. Our bids were typically lower and featured greater functionality. Even when we won a bid, it would typically get rebid on a minor technicality. Now we know why. Unfortunately, the American company is no longer in that business. It would be nice if the companies that got cheated by Siemens were actually compensated instead of the German government.

Siemens Fine Ends a Bribery Probe

Germany's Investigation Of Telecom Arm Is Closed;Other Inquiries Continue

October 5, 2007; Page A2 (WSJ)

MUNICH -- A German court ordered Siemens AG to pay €201 million ($284 million) as prosecutors closed a part of Europe's largest bribery investigation. But as other probes continue, the German conglomerate faces more possible fines and criminal charges against its executives.
Europe's largest engineering company by sales said yesterday that the court-ordered penalty, which it won't appeal, is tied to alleged bribe payments at its telecommunications-equipment unit. A prosecutor in the case said the probe of that unit is now closed.

• The News: Siemens was ordered to pay $284 million over alleged bribe payments at its telecom-gear unit, one of the largest corporate penalties levied in Germany.

• Background: Embarrassment at officials' apparent practice of paying commissions to secure contracts forced a leadership change at the company earlier this year.

• What's Next: Criminal investigations into irregularities at Siemens are continuing in several other countries, including the U.S.

Prosecutors also said yesterday that Reinhard Siekaczek, an ex-manager in the Siemens telecom unit, was indicted last week in connection with the bribery probe. He has been charged with embezzling €24 million, according to Christian Schmidt-Somerfeld, a criminal prosecutor in Munich. More indictments are expected this year, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Siekaczek's attorney wasn't available to comment.

The penalty payment, which includes a small fine and a charge for illegal profits, is the first Siemens has faced since the current investigations were launched last year into suspicious payments at the company. A German court in May fined Siemens €38 million as part of an earlier investigation into bribes paid by the company's power-generation unit in Italy. Following German practice, prosecutors proposed the penalties to a court, which approved them in a court order yesterday.

An internal investigation ordered by Siemens has now flagged €1.6 billion in suspicious payments, according to people familiar with the matter. Embarrassment at the extent of Siemens officials' apparent practice of paying commissions to secure contracts forced a change of leadership at the company earlier this year.

Siemens said it also reached an agreement with German tax authorities to pay €179 million in unpaid taxes tied to €450 million in suspicious transactions at the telecom unit. Of that amount, Siemens already had booked a tax charge of €168 million last year after flagging €420 million in questionable transactions spanning the previous seven years.

"Today's decisions are important steps in clarifying and coming to terms with the misconduct which occurred in the past. Siemens accepts full responsibility in this matter," said Siemens President and CEO Peter Löscher. "We will continue to strengthen compliance as a key element of Siemens's corporate and leadership culture."

Although it is one of the largest corporate penalties levied in Germany, yesterday's €201 million charge is unlikely to trouble Siemens financially. The company booked a net profit of just over €3 billion for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2006. European Union regulators hit Siemens with a much larger €400 million fine earlier this year for operating a cartel in electrical switching gear. Siemens is appealing that decision.

German police raided Munich-based Siemens's offices last November after flagging €20 million in questionable payments at the telecom unit, formerly the conglomerate's largest. Prosecutors suspect company managers funneled funds through sham consulting contracts to bribe potential customers abroad over several years. Earlier this year, Siemens transferred the bulk of its telecom-equipment business into a 50-50 joint venture with Finland's Nokia Corp.

But allegations of bribe payments have since spread to other units at Siemens. The company booked €87 billion of sales in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2006, and makes goods including high-speed trains, steam turbines, medical scanners and light bulbs.

Siemens confirmed during the summer it was investigating payments at five other units. Last December, Siemens hired U.S. law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP to probe the corruption allegations.

Mr. Schmidt-Somerfeld said his office has investigated only the telecom unit thus far. Another prosecutor familiar with the investigation said other probes could be opened if needed.
Criminal investigations into financial irregularities at Siemens are continuing in several other countries, including the U.S., where the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are probing Siemens's business dealings.

People familiar with the matter say U.S. authorities could levy larger fines and possibly ban Siemens from public-sector contracts in the U.S. Prosecutors in the U.S. have more legal tools at their disposal to go after companies than their German counterparts, who typically prosecute individuals. The U.S. Justice Department and SEC declined to comment.

German prosecutors in Nuremberg also are probing tens of millions of euros in payments by Siemens to an employer-friendly labor group allegedly aimed at undermining the country's most powerful union. That criminal investigation led to the arrest of a Siemens management-board member earlier this year.

Write to David Crawford at and Mike Esterl at

Thursday, October 4, 2007

$220k Download Verdict

Woman Faces The Music, Loses Download Case

Jury Finds Minn. Woman Violated Copyright Law, Orders Her To Pay Record Companies $220K

DULUTH, Minn., Oct. 4, 2007

Jammie Thomas of Brainerd, Minn. walks out of the U.S. District Court in Duluth, Minn., Oct. 2, 2007, after jury selection on the first day of her civil trial for alleged music pirating through illegal sharing of song files.

(AP) The recording industry won a key fight Thursday against illegal music downloading when a federal jury found a Minnesota woman shared copyrighted music online and levied $222,000 in damages against her. Jurors ordered Jammie Thomas, 30, to pay the six record companies that sued her $9,250 for each of 24 songs they focused on in the case. They had alleged she shared 1,702 songs online in violation of their copyrights.

Thomas and her attorney, Brian Toder, declined comment as they left the courthouse. Jurors also left without commenting. "This does send a message, I hope, that downloading and distributing our recordings is not OK," said Richard Gabriel, the lead attorney for the music companies. In the first such lawsuit to go to trial, six record companies accused Thomas of downloading the songs without permission and offering them online through a Kazaa file-sharing account. Thomas denied wrongdoing and testified that she didn't have a Kazaa account. Record companies have filed some 26,000 lawsuits since 2003 over file-sharing, which has hurt sales because it allows people to get music for free instead of paying for recordings in stores. Many other defendants have settled by paying the companies a few thousand dollars.

We think we're in for a long haul in terms of establishing that music has value, that music is property, and that property has to be respected.

The RIAA says the lawsuits have mitigated illegal sharing, even though music file-sharing is rising overall. The group says the number of households that have used file-sharing programs to download music has risen from 6.9 million monthly in April 2003, before the lawsuits began, to 7.8 million in March 2007. During the three-day trial, record companies presented evidence they said showed the copyrighted songs were offered by a Kazaa user under the name "tereastarr."

Their witnesses, including officials from an Internet provider and a security firm, testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr" belonged to Thomas. Toder had argued at closing that record companies never proved that "Jammie Thomas, a human being, got on her keyboard and sent out these things." "We don't know what happened," Toder told jurors. "All we know is that Jammie Thomas didn't do this." Gabriel called that defense "misdirection, red herrings, smoke and mirrors." He told jurors a verdict against Thomas would send a message to other illegal downloaders. "I only ask that you consider that the need for deterrence here is great," he said. Copyright law sets a damage range of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or up to $150,000 if the violation was "willful." Jurors ruled that Thomas' infringement was willful, but awarded damages in a middle range.

Before the verdict, an official with an industry trade group said he was surprised it had taken so long for one of the industry's lawsuits against individual downloaders to come to trial. Illegal downloads have "become business as usual, nobody really thinks about it," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which coordinates the lawsuits. "This case has put it back in the news. Win or lose, people will understand that we are out there trying to protect our rights." Thomas' testimony was complicated by the fact that she had replaced her computer's hard drive after the sharing was alleged to have taken place - and later than she said in a deposition before trial. The hard drive in question was not presented at trial by either party, though Thomas used her new one to show the jury how fast it copies songs from CDs. That was an effort to counter an industry witness's assertion that the songs on the old drive got their too fast to have come from CDs she owned - and therefore must have been downloaded illegally.

Record companies said Thomas was sent an instant message in February 2005, warning her that she was violating copyright law. Her hard drive was replaced the following month, not in 2004, as she said in the deposition. The record companies involved in the lawsuit are Sony BMG, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings Inc., Capitol Records Inc. and Warner Bros. Records Inc.

© MMVII The Associated Press

Best PC Mouse?

Logitech MX Air
by Matt Safford (PC Magazine)

Logitech's MX Air is undoubtedly one of the best mice ever designed. If you must have the best, this is it: It's a pleasure to use both on the desk and in the air. But it's also the most expensive mouse that's not covered in gold or diamonds.

Excellent design and ergonomics. Near-flawless implementation both on the desk and in the air.
Pricey. Slight delay in "takeoff" from desk to air. Concept begs for more software. No Mac support.

I'll just come right out and say it. The Logitech MX Air, officially announced today, July 12, is the best mouse I've ever used. Of course, at $149.99, it's also the most expensive I've used. But other high-end mice from Logitech run around $100, and with the MX Air, you get quite a lot of peripheral bang for your extra fifty bucks.

More Troubles for Hong Kong Disneyland

Report: Hong Kong government not keen to fund Disneyland expansion

The Associated Press

Published: October 3, 2007

HONG KONG: Hong Kong Disneyland is unlikely to receive more money from the local government to fund new attractions because of disappointing attendance at the theme park since it opened two years ago, a local newspaper reported Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the park, a joint venture between The Walt Disney Co. and the Hong Kong government, said it is still discussing financing options with the government.

Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper reported Wednesday the local government, instead of providing fresh cash, is inclined to give the park more land, or sell down its stake in Hong Kong Disneyland for cash to reinvest in the park. All land in Hong Kong is technically owned by the government and leased to commercial developers on long-term contracts.

The government believes the Hong Kong public will not support fresh spending on the park because of its unsatisfactory results, the paper said.

Hong Kong's Commerce and Economic Development Bureau had no immediate comment on the report.

Disney Plans Hawaii Resort Hotel

Has the creative well run dry?

Disney plans Hawaii resort hotel with educational, cultural activities, but no amusement park

HONOLULU - The Walt Disney Co. plans to build a family resort in Hawaii, but it won't be an island Disneyland.

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts announced Wednesday it has bought 21 acres of oceanfront property on the western side of Oahu that it will use to build an 800-room hotel complex.

The resort, Disney's first without a nearby theme park, will emphasize family-centred vacations while respecting Hawaii's culture, said Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo.

"It will give our guests another way to visit a place that they've loved for many years," Rasulo said. "As the crossroads of Asia, it is your diverse culture that makes this place so special."
Disney spent $144 million to buy the land at the Ko Olina development, near the existing J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa.

Disney has several themed resort hotels near Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida, but it has never built a hotel resort that will stand on its own. Hawaii has no full-scale amusement park.

Construction on the resort is expected to begin next year, with opening set for 2011. The planned Disney complex has not yet been named.

Rasulo said there were no plans to expand the resort into a theme park.

"This decision and project really enhances our state's reputation as a family destination," said Gov. Linda Lingle. "That's what we are, and the Disney name brings that to everyone's mind, front and centre."

The hotel complex is expected to create 1,000 jobs along the island's Leeward coast, an area known as much for its homelessness as for its breezy beaches.

The resort's designs and amenities won't be finalized until early 2008, but Rasulo said it will include educational and cultural activities, including local entertainers and hula dancers.

"When our families go home, they will know much more about Hawaii," Rasulo said. "To call it a hotel would be a vast understatement of what we're trying to achieve."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I Won't Surrender to Download Bullies, Says Mother Fighting Music Giants

Chris Ayres in Los Angeles (FT)

A single mother has made legal history by forcing America’s biggest record companies into a costly and potentially embarrassing trial after she refused to pay an out-of-court settlement for alleged music piracy.

Jammie Thomas, a Native American from Minnesota, is one of 26,000 people the Recording Industry Association of America has sued over the past four years for alleged use of music “file-sharing” software. But she is the first to refuse to settle and has forced the music industry into a trial that could set a legal precedent. “I refuse to be bullied,” she said yesterday. “I know that I did not do this, and the jury will hear that I did not do this.”

Ms Thomas, 30, who has two children aged 11 and 13, lives in the small northern town of Brainerd, Minnesota, and works for the Department of Natural Resources of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, a Native American tribe. According to the tribe’s website, its members “struggled with poverty and despair” until the opening of two casinos in the 1990s.

The case threatens to become another PR disaster for record companies. After they were initially accused of refusing to offer a legitimate alternative to file-sharing, the companies are now being attacked for the way they price such music. Their practices have prompted an investigation by the European Commission and alienated many big-selling bands. Next week
Radiohead will release its new album independently and allow fans to decide how to much to pay for it online, through an “honesty box” system.

In its lawsuit against Ms Thomas, the RIAA claims that on February 21, 2005, the mother-of-two used the file-sharing service Kazaa to offer more than 1,702 songs for illegal sharing. These included songs by the Swedish “death metal” band Opeth, although tracks by Janet Jackson, Green Day, Guns ’N’ Roses, Journey, Destiny’s Child and others are believed to be at issue in the case.

The username Ms Thomas allegedly used, “tereastarr”, is the same as the username on her MySpace page, which features the quote: “What’s the definition of insanity? Doing to the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.”

Last year Kazaa settled its own music piracy lawsuit with record companies for $100 million. In the UK the music industry has taken legal action against more than 100 individuals, although none of those cases has yet been contested in court.

Brian Toder, the lawyer representing Ms Thomas, insisted that the RIAA could not prove she shared the songs in question. “She came into my office and was willing to pay a retainer of pretty much what they wanted to settle for,” he said yesterday. “And if someone’s willing to pay a lawyer rather than pay to make it go away, that says a lot.”

Working against the music industry is a ruling that barred 784 pages of documents proving corporate ownership of the songs – the judge said that the documents had been filed too late - and the fact that Ms Thomas replaced her hard drive after receiving her first “infringement notice”. She is also thought to be an enthusiastic CD buyer, which could make the jury more sympathetic to her.

Critics say that defendants such as Ms Thomas, who could be asked to pay damages of anywhere between $19,500 and $3.9 million, are bad publicity for the association. The association says that it is in a no-win situation, and believes that a zero tolerance approach to file-sharing is the only way to enforce copyright laws.

“We repeatedly offer out-of-court settlements far less than what the law allows,” said Jonathan Lamy, its spokesman.

Legal analysts said that the trial risked exposing the flaws in the association’s piracy-investigation techniques, which are handled by an outside company called SafeNet. If the association loses, the verdict could embolden other defendants to go to court, while making record companies even more unpopular than they already are.

“The case will be the first test of the RIAA’s ability to sell a jury on its investigative methods, which have a degree of imprecision,” wrote the music industry blogger Jon Healey in the Los Angeles Times yesterday.

“Internet protocol addresses are not painted on the side of a computer like a street address, and even if the association were able to trace a shared file back to a specific PC or Mac, it is not easy to prove who was sitting at the keyboard.”

According to the association, the number of households that have downloaded music with file-sharing software has risen from 6.9 million in April 2003 to 7.8 million in March 2007. Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer who specialises in intellectual property at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said that the RIAA’s legal campaign was having little effect. “I think by most any metric you choose, it’s been a failure,” he said.

10%: proportion of music sales worldwide that come from internet downloads

10,000: people in 18 countries threatened with legal action

20bn: tracks are illegally downloaded each year

14%: of broadband users regularly engage in illegal file-sharing

795m: estimated number of legal downloads bought last year

4m: songs can currently be purchased online

£1bn: what legal music download market is worth

25: illegal downloads for every legitimate music purchase

Sources: IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry); Times archives

HD DVD Recorders Coming Soon

CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) - Panasonic maker Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd (6752.T: Quote, Profile, Research) said it would launch new Blu-ray optical disc recorders in November that allow more hours of full high-definition recording on a single disc than any others available.

Matsushita, along with Sony Corp (6758.T: Quote, Profile, Research), promotes the Blu-ray technology, which competes with the HD DVD format, backed by Toshiba Corp (6502.T: Quote, Profile, Research) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

Osaka-based Matsushita, the world's largest consumer electronics maker, also said it plans to offer the world's first DVD recorders that can store full high-definition programs on conventional DVD discs next month.

Full high-definition (HD) programs come with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.
Matsushita's new Blu-ray recorders, which are able to record up to 18 hours of full HD programs on a dual-layer disc, will go on sale on November 1 in Japan.

A model equipped with a one-terabyte hard disk drive is expected to sell for 300,000 yen ($2,600), Matsushita said.

The one-terabyte hard drive can store up to 381 hours of full HD programs.

Matsushita, the world's largest maker of plasma TVs, took the wraps off the new Blu-ray and DVD recorders at the CEATEC Japan 2007 electronics industry trade show on Tuesday.
The company said it will start selling three models of new DVD recorders capable of recording full HD programs on conventional DVD discs on November 1.

Monday, October 1, 2007

AccessIT First Quarter Results


- Revenue Growth and Adjusted EBITDA Margin Increase Continues, Driven by New and Existing Product and Service Offerings -

MORRISTOWN, N.J., Aug 09, 2007 /PRNewswire-FirstCall via COMTEX News Network/ --

Access Integrated Technologies, Inc. ("AccessIT" or the "Company") (Nasdaq: AIXD) reported a 225% increase in revenues, to a record $18,146,000 for the first quarter of fiscal 2008 ended June 30, 2007, versus the year-ago period. In the quarter, the Company posted an Adjusted EBITDA(1) (defined below) of $6,102,000, and a net loss of $6,843,000 or $0.28 per basic and diluted share. The net loss includes non-cash expenses for depreciation, amortization of intangible assets and software development, non-cash interest and stock based compensation aggregating $8,497,000 or $0.34 per basic and diluted share.

First Fiscal Quarter Highlights

-- Revenues for the first quarter increased by 225%, to $18,146,000 from
$5,576,000 in the comparable year ago period driven largely by VPF
revenues, delivery fees, software license fees for our Theatre Command
Centre(TM) software and contributions from our acquisitions of
UniqueScreen Media and The Bigger Picture.

-- The increase in Adjusted EBITDA(1) was primarily due to the increased
revenues as described above, partially offset by increased operating
and SG&A expenses resulting from the acquisitions of USM and The Bigger

-- Loss From Operations in the June 2007 quarter decreased to $1,309,000,
from a loss of $2,417,000 in the year ago period. The decreased loss
was due primarily to higher revenues partially offset by increased
depreciation and additional amortization of intangible assets resulting
from the acquisitions of UniqueScreen Media and The Bigger Picture.
Non-cash charges included in loss from operations for the year
aggregated $7,411,000.

-- Gross Margin (revenue less direct operating expenses) increased from
60% in our recently completed fourth quarter to 66% in this first

-- Adjusted EBITDA(1) margins improved from negative 4% in the prior
year's first quarter, and from 19% in our recently completed fourth
quarter, to 34% in this quarter.

-- As of June 30, 2007, the Company had installed 2,692 digital cinema
systems and 2,851 as of July 31, 2007 and intends to complete 4,000
digital cinema systems installations by October 31, 2007.

Sony OLED TV for Christmas

Oh, Santa!

The 11-inch, 3mm-thick display hits the streets of Japan in december for $1,743.
Sony has announced they are adding a new category to their TV business, launching the "XEL-1," the world's first organic light emitting diode (OLED) TV in December of 2007. OLED, a light-emitting display technology based on electroluminescent organic materials, allows extremely thin design parameters to be achieved. With its low power usage, it is also extremely environmentally friendly. Sony first produced full-color OLED panels in 2004, focused mainly on mobile products. The XEL-1 boasts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 960 x 450 resolution and 2 x 1W speakers, with USB, Ethernet and HDMI inputs. An 11-inch model will be available in Japan on December 1 for an MSRP of around $1,750.