Thursday, April 28, 2005

T-Mobile opens the kimono on coverage maps

For years cellular phone carriers have misled people about their coverage maps. Radio Shack used to feature Sprint PCS in their stores, and I had a lot of fun telling young enthusiastic sales clerks that the claimed coverage was a pack of lies.

Carriers like to publish "approximate" coverage maps. T-Mobile has broken the mold: they've published detailed street-level maps showing exactly what coverage you get.

This is a bold move. T-Mobile uses superior technology -- GSM, the standard used across Europe and much of the world -- but their coverage in the U.S. is poor compared to, say, Verizon. (By the way, T-Mobile is not Catherine Zeta-Jones; it's Deutsche Telekom.) It will be interesting to see if competing carriers have the guts to pony up the truth about their coverage.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Congress legislates the sunrise -- and the livestock are upset

Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan is pushing an amendment to the energy bill that would extend the period of Daylight Saving Time. The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

Upton said extending daylight time ''makes sense especially with skyrocketing energy costs'' even though farmers for years have not been happy about daylight time as it now exists. They complain the later daylight in the morning adversely affects livestock.

Um, I'm not sure I get it. Do the cows have wristwatches?

I remember as a boy arguing with an old uncle about the merits of the idea. My uncle kept saying it was wrong to change what "by the sun" should be the correct time. To me, time of day was an abstract concept, decreed by someone in Greenwich or at the US Naval Observatory or somewhere. To my uncle, high noon was high noon.

Benjamin Franklin proposed daylight saving in a remarkable essay in 1784. (Good grief, what didn't he think of? Note his sleeping habits as detailed in the essay.) Here's a 1907 essay by William Willett expounding on the virtues of the concept.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

My first venture into podcasting

Last night was my first experience participating in a podcast. Bill Castanier, a PR professional in Lansing, invited me to join Spartan Podcast, which features a panel of communications industry experts who have an affiliation with Michigan State University.

It was a fun conversation. We used old technology to carry on the discussion: land line telephone calls into a phone conference bridge. Scott Westerman did a bit of audio editing and poof it was available for download.

Here's the permalink:

Sunday, April 17, 2005

RIAA claims they sued 405 students -- but how do they know?

The recording industry's latest lawsuit advertising campaign targeted Internet2 file sharing. The Detroit News quoted me on this development.

People think the RIAA sues people. Wrong. They sue IP addresses. When the RIAA launches one of its batches of suits against alleged file sharers, they give each relevant ISP a list of IP addresses that allegedly shared files, and, under the DMCA, the ISP must cough up any log links to personal identities.

But the press dutifully reports what the RIAA says in the press release. Many media outlets claimed that 405 students were sued. But that's not necessarily the case. But Heather Newman in the Detroit Free Press quoted the RIAA carefully:

The RIAA said it targeted 20 Michigan State University students, who were not identified by name in the legal papers filed Wednesday. The lawsuits cite the Internet Protocol addresses used by the students while they were downloading -- combinations of numbers that uniquely identify every connection to the Web. Once the lawsuits are filed, the RIAA can subpoena the names of the students using those addresses at the time the downloads were made, RIAA spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen said.


Here's my question: how does the RIAA know that the IP addresses they claimed that engaged in file sharing belonged to students? If all you have is an IP address, how can an external entity know if an address belongs to a student?

IP addresses do not equate to individuals. An IP address might be static, assigned to one person or purpose -- but most often these days, an IP address is dynamic, reassigned frequently. If the address is dynamic, you have to examine logs to see if you can connect the IP address to an individual. Sometimes, you can't; logs can be voluminous, and must be rotated.

A university would hope that faculty and staff, above all, would not engage in illegal file sharing, but it's possible. A guest might engage in file sharing. Or an intruder might engage in file sharing -- someone breaks into a computer on campus, knowing it has enormous bandwidth, and sets up Grokster or equivalent.

The RIAA claimed they sued 405 students at 18 institutions. The truth is they identified 405 computers by IP address. In theory, one person -- not necessarily a student -- at each institution could've generated all the traffic the RIAA assumed was file sharing. FYI, the RIAA says they found i2hub activity at an additional 140 universities.

For the RIAA to assert that the offenders are students, when they do not yet know the identity of the alleged offenders, is reckless. It might be true, but it's not known. For the media to take RIAA claims at face value, without questioning, is sloppy. Heck, the New York Post assumed that the offenders were not only students, but specifically female students.

At least Heather Newman got it right: the RIAA named computers, not individuals, and although it's likely the alleged offenders were students, it's not known until investigation.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

MusicMatch pitches soothing tax time music -- a little late

Folks who know me won't be surprised to find that on the evening of April 15 I was still begging TurboTax to do the right thing. But I received a surprise: an e-mail from MusicMatch suggesting that I download some soothing New Age music to listen to as I prepared my taxes in order to calm my, er, overtaxed soul.

What surprised me is that MusicMatch sent this pitch on the morning of April 16. Hey, MusicMatch, do you need a Form 4868 -- Application for Extension?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Leave it to a Rupert Murdoch paper to take a routine story about RIAA lawsuits and apply the word "coed" to the headline. For the record, the RIAA announced it would legally pursue the identity behind folks using 405 IP addresses at 18 universities connected to Internet2.

We don't know whether those people are even students, though it is conceivable that some of the people behind those IP addresses may in fact be students who are, gasp, female. Maybe Fox could partner with CBS on a special movie "Sharks Attack Coed Downloaders"?

Does anyone actually use the word "coed" in 2005?

Links to coverage quoting me on this story:

File-swapping case hits MSU

20 at MSU sued for illegal file sharing

Monday, April 04, 2005

Gmail news leaks out slowly with Friday April Fool announcement

No one believed Google on April 1, 2004, when they announced 1 gigabyte mailboxes. In 2005, Google announced they would double the quota -- but the announcement came out on a Friday, and once again, an April Fool's Day.

They say that the White House long since learned to put out press releases for bad news stories on Friday afternoon. I don't know when Google put out its 2 gig Gmail press release Friday, but the international media is still catching up to the story Monday morning.

The mystery of the new quota continues as well. Google says a fraction of their Gmail users bumped against the 1 gig limit; I was 2/3 there. Here's my current quota usage:

You are currently using 697 MB (34%) of your 2056 MB.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Subtle April Fool's joke: Google doubles Gmail's 1 gigabyte quota - slowly

Google first announced Gmail, with 1 gig of storage, on April 1, 2004. The April Fool's Day announcement was so stunning no one believed it.

This April Fool's Day Google announced it would double the quota to 2 gigabytes. That's actually less stunning than the 2004 announcement. The cost per gig of disk contunes to fall. What stunned people in 2004 is the cost to back up your mailbox. For an interview last year a Google rep told me that "we don't do a lot of tape backup."

That was a subtle answer. Some speculate that Google has built a global, reliable, self-healing, replicating file system -- one that needs no tape backups at all.

Google had fun with the quota change. They didn't just give people 2 gig; they updated the quota dynamically throughout the day. I started the day at 67% of 1 gig, then fell to 50%. It's now past midnight Mountain View time and I'm not quite up to the 2 gig limit.

Props to my colleague Matt Kolb for getting the subtle Google joke that whooshed right over my head....

Now for the actual Google April Fool's joke.