Vol. 3 No. 11

June, 2004



The Real News

Real News Komix



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The cellphone mania should have been a fad but it is a lifestyle. There is an advertisement of a man on a gurney frozen in panic being wheeled into the emergency room. The cause of his medical emergency: his latest cell phone bill. We had one of those moments recently. When you use the portable as often as brushing your teeth each day, the bill must be reasonable. So it was time to change the office telecom.

But now a cellphone is not a telephone. It is a maddening two manual, one read-me-first, myriad of icon button and dual screen. The old cellphone was ring, flip over and talk. To dial a call, activate, punch in numbers, send. Pretty simple. The new cells apparently designed by a committee of gadget freaks who want to incorporate every or any inane feature into a small package. Voicemail, text messages, paging, contact lists, calendar, hell, even games, are allegedly a part of the feature package. Who has the time or the patience for this crap?

Who can take a palm sized cellphone and attempt to one-hand surf the net by using micro-sized icon buttons on a postage stamp size screen while driving 55 mph in rush hour traffic? Maybe a comic book publisher will debut a new superhero, Telecom Man, soon to show us mortals.

I need the cell for a limited amount of reasons. Quick messages from the office. Emergencies like car trouble.

I cannot stand the people who have tethered their lives to phone. People walking through stores or the grocery talking to someone on what they should buy. Cantaloupe or winter melon? Spending more on the actual phone call than buying both melons. Does it make sense? Of course not. People have been programmed like lab rats by the industry to depend on your phone for everything. It is your life. It is a status symbol. You are your phone. 24/7. Be on or be square.

Emails are made to be read, printed and/or saved on a person's main computer. That is a matter of personal preference, granted, but that is the problem of fusing the business aspect of use with the personal convenience of the device. Some people are text messaging any idea, any comment, anything from anywhere at anytime. And they expect an instant reply. This could lead to a cultural burnout.

So the new phone is smaller than the prior one. It has ten times the features than the prior one. It has hundred times the amount of directions than the prior one. The Memorial Day weekend may be used up in an effort to memorize the directions.


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TV or Not to TV

Last month, we noted that host Leo Laporte of TechTV was rehired after two weeks of contract limbo. We assumed that Comcast, which agreed to purchase TechTV to merge the channel into Comcast's game channel, G4, realized that it needed to transition programming in order to preserve TechTV's coveted viewership numbers. Well, an optimist would have said we were correct.

Comcast's narrow-niche G4 game channel has decided to port only the young, cool and hip computer game programs onto the merged G4TechTV. The nuts and bolts informational tech shows like Call For Help and Screensavers have been mothballed by the new owner. Laporte is currently doing 90 second tip segments for the new channel.

Comcast has been buying up cable content channels. It is moving toward a vertical monopoly business plan; where it would control the limited number of cable channels by putting its owned-and-operated channels on their systems in lieu of paying increasing higher program fees to others. It purchased local sports nets to create its own sports channel to debut in the fall. The acquisition of TechTV was for the channels viewership numbers.

But in the professional service world, viewers like customers, are not mindless sheep. Just by buying a channel does not mean the viewers will be your ratings property. TechTV had more viewers than G4. The gamer shows on TechTV were like the sports page in the daily newspaper; it was just a fraction of the whole scene. So the programming decision was to take three or four gamer-type programs and torpedo the general computer interest programs. According to the message boards, loyal TechTV viewers are upset with the decision. They are venting on the Internet hoping that some computer savvy dot-com billionaire would create a new TechTV channel. But they forget that Paul Allen of Microsoft fame was in the food chain of the TechTV sale to Comcast. So do not hold your collective breaths.

What is also disappointing with the merger is the change in the TechTV website. The old site contained many features and stories that were aired on the channel. For those of us who did not get the channel on our cable systems, it was a good way to keep up on what was happening on the cutting edge of technology. Like, how to create bullet holes in road signs in Photoshop. But now, the dominance of G4 has wiped out the TechTV informational aspects of the website to the stagnant promotion of their collective gamer shows.

Comcast is not merging the channels as equals but unequals. The G4 programs will be the dominant players.The TechTV holdovers appear to be shown at the end of the day's normal programming schedule which is not prime time. The end result is that most of the TechTV viewers will be without their channel.

For Additional Commentary on TechTV, go to




Pirates, Ahoy!

Congress is contemplating another Senator Hatch copyright bill. This one is called the Pirate Act. It will empower the federal government to take criminal action against illegal downloaders for copyright violations. In reality, it is an attempt to substitute the federal government and its cross-agency information gathering powers for the RIAA in its relentless quest against the Napsters of the world.

A politician answer to any problem posed is to pass another bill. That's what a career politician is for-- his job is pass bills and to sermonize the good and ills of society on a daily basis. He does not have to deal with the consequences.

The latest round of RIAA lawsuits were filed against ISP numbers only. This is an attempt to get around the problem of John Doe subpoenas and past fishing expeditions that the Internet service providers have cried foul for their customers privacy and the costs of compliance.

There is a standing issue. The RIAA does not own any of the copyrights it is trying to enforce against the downloaders. The real parties in interest are the artists, music publishers or record labels. But there is no consensus in the music industry about the Internet distribution of music. It is impossible to create a true class action because there is no uniformity in potential damages as each downloader would be infringing by downloading different songs. But the RIAA is taking the point of the industry ship under the passive assent of its membership. It is not unlike the European colonialism of America when the powers granted pirates free reign to take down other pirates (or competitors) on the high seas.

So a new criminal statute is not needed by Congress. Willful copyright infringement is criminalized by 17 U.S.C. 506(a) in concert with 18 U.S.C. 2319 for economically motivated infringement or large-scale infringement (even if not committed for commercial gain). Felony penalties attach to violations involving reproduction or distribution of at least ten copies valued at more than $2,500. See 18 U.S.C. 2319(b)(1). But federal resources do not get involved in mostly civil actions. If a defendant is milling hundreds or thousands of bootleg copies of a movie or record, then the federal agencies including customs will crack down and file the appropriate criminal charges. But in isolated single song download cases, the manpower to conviction cost-benefit analysis does not compute.

But is easier to have the government burden the costs of going after the individual infringers than the music industry.

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