BT Internet Radio Review (75%)

BT Internet Radio Review (75%)With last week’s launch of it’s TV over the Internet service, a raft of integrated net-based services and a slew of new hardware devices, BT has relauched itself as a multi-media service provider instead of a plain old utility company. The BT Internet Radio shows another face of BT’s rebranding. It’s a slickly designed consumer electrical product aimed directly at the growing digital radio sector.

The design of the device itself echoes Apple’s trademark austere, white aesthetic. Organically shaped, it has no straight edges or corners and is slightly flared towards the base. Wraparound silver mesh panels add some contrast and a front centred LED displays information in a soft blue light. On top are a series of quite ‘plasticy’ buttons. Two larger buttons provide volume control and menu navigation and various others control playback, station memory, alarm and other functions.

Setting it up is a breeze. A simple press button starts the device scanning for your wireless network. You log on using the scrolling navigation button to enter your normal network password and the radio takes care of the rest.

Once online, stations are accessed through the same navigation button. They are grouped by location or genre, though there doesn’t appear to be a way just to browse all available stations. A series of sub-menus gives access to the features of each station. A choice between live and on demand material is visible where archived material is available. This means you can access services like the BBC’s listen-again service, picking programmes from all the recent BBC broadcasts for the last seven days. More sub menus allow you to choose programmes and days where appropriate.

BT Internet Radio Review (75%)Choosing between stations is a bit of a hit and miss affair. If your tastes tend towards anything beyond the mainstream categorizations (rock, pop, dance, hip hop etc) you’ll struggle to find the music you want to hear. This, of course, isn’t BT’s fault. The device uses the Reciva Internet Portal to aggregate its stations. If you access the Reciva Website (Reciva) you can find some more detail on the content of stations but, since Reciva (like the Gracenote database) allows users to add information there are some frustratingly arbitrary categorizations. That said, there are over 5000 stations available and, once I located Resonance FM under the experimental section I was happily listening to an assortment of droning and scraping, Bollywood soundtracks and post-modern poetry.

Sound quality is quite adequate and better than that produced by most internal computer speakers. The sound is deep and clear with none of the echoing or breakup that DAB radio is prone to. There are, however, a couple of niggles with sound adjustment. There is no way to adjust bass or treble and the volume control does not automatically increase when held down, meaning you have to keep pressing to raise or lower volume. Unlike DAB, the radio doesn’t display any info (such as such as track titles) about the source.

Using the unit was no problem though there were some irritations. It tends to hang on to the last programme played and starts up replaying that every time. In the case of a live station that’s ok but for archived content it can become annoying. The radio is also subject to same problems you would encounter with any wireless device: proximity to router and the number of walls in between can affect reception. I noticed a tendency for buffering in most locations in which I tried. Access to a signal is entirely dependent on your internet connection being on. My router drops the line when it isn’t in use therefore the auto-play alarm function is no use. When the unit reconnects to the network after being switched off, it uses the saved security key however I found that often the logon failed a second attempt was required.

BT Internet Radio Review (75%)The device can access and playback MP3 or other audio files from a networked PC. An extremely useful feature and one that really capitalizes on the network power of the unit. It probably would have done the most to sell this device to me. In practice it was unable to connect to my PC so I had to leave the feature untested. Typically, macs are not supported and I was unable to access my sizable MP3 collection via either of the macs on the network. It’s not surprising that BT have chosen to adopt Windows technology for integration with computers but it is disappointing that they couldn’t have adopted an interoperable standard which would have supported any operating system.

Given that Windows-centric tendency I wonder exactly who the Internet Radio will be useful to? On one hand it brings a host of Internet radio stations and a variety of useful services and features into one portable unit. It’s easy to set up and use and, in the right circumstances, has the potential to integrate with an existing network to provide extended access to shared music files.

On the other hand, it is only Windows compatible and therefore restricted in terms of both OS and DRM technologies.


If you are already streaming audio over your wireless network, there isn’t a whole lot of extra functionality in this box. Since a wireless network is a necessary prerequisite for the unit to work, I have to wonder how many people will find it sufficiently superior to their existing methods of playback to make it worth the £120 price tag.

Score: 75%

Reservoir Dogs Game Pre-Review: EIEF06

Reservoir Dogs Game Pre-ReviewIt’s been a cult movie staple for over 15 years but, from Friday, you’ll be able to interact with Mr Pink, Mr White, Nice Guy Eddie and the rest of Quentin Tarantino’s be-suited robbers as Eidos launches Reservoir Dogs, the game.

Attendees of the EIEF were treated to a special preview on Tuesday by members of the Volatile Games development team.

Dressed appropriately in black suits, Ben Fisher and Ian Pestridge delivered a presentation that was every bit as slick and sharp as they game they have designed.

Fisher conceded that Reservoir Dogs was perhaps not an obvious choice of movie for a game version. It is dialogue heavy, there’s a lot of characterisation and only a few main locations. On the other hand there are excellent elements on which to build a good gaming experience; a heist, tons of gunplay, dramatic escapes and multiple different points of view.

So, what’s it like?
From the start Reservoir Dogs is a smart, hip game. From its snappy animated menus to its sleek black, white and red colour scheme, the whole look and feel of the menus echoes the retro stylings of the movie.

Each level is preceded by a recreation of a classic scene. A total of 15 minutes of movie time was recreated digitally, complete with the razor-sharp dialogue for which Tarantino became famous. The recreations set the tone beautifully before players are thrown into a variety of violent situations from which they must escape to progress to the next level.

Reservoir Dogs Game Pre-ReviewWe said the graphics were realistic but so is the dialogue and each level is accompanied by excerpts, with each character having over 200 lines.

The team demonstrated Level 1, a ‘shoot-em-up’ with Mr Blue’s escape from the heist. In superbly realistically rendered animation, the player must exit the scene of the failed heist as cops close in. So far, so standard ‘shoot-em-up’, but there is a twist. The development team has included different styles of play so you can choose to just go bananas and shoot everybody (the psycho approach) or you can negotiate, barter or just intimidate your way out of the situation (the professional approach). This addition adds variety and depth to the gaming experience; in fact Ben Fisher reckoned it’s possible to complete the entire game without firing a single bullet. The game rates your style at the end of each level and cleverly adjusts to respond to your approach, allowing you to invent your own reservoir dog.

So what about variety?
The game remains faithful to the Tarantino ‘universe’ but it would have been very linear and predictable if they had just followed the movie. Instead they have taken elements from the movie and developed additional material. Thus players can engage in the escape from the heist, take part in car chases and go to places only mentioned in passing in the movie. The team has created individual timelines for all the characters for the whole 24 hours of the movie and players can chop around, moving back and forwards in time, from one event to another.

The new material has been thoroughly researched to fit with the look and feel of the original. As Fisher pointed out, Tarantino has never directed a car chase so they were careful to draw inspiration from the sort of 70’s movies (like Vanishing Point) that would have influenced him.

Reservoir Dogs Game Pre-ReviewThis approach includes the music. Eidos licensed all the original music from the film but more was required to fit the length of the game. Some was written in-house and additional tracks were licensed including some stupendously funky 70’s driving music to accompany the car chase.

And what about that ear cutting scene?
Reservoir Dogs the game would hardly have been complete without the single most (in)famous scene from the film, the ear cutting scene. Sure enough, it is in there and, yes, you can cut off the cop’s ear (though it’s not obligatory, especially if you are playing pro style). However, Fisher was quick to point out, the team chose to carry this out in the style of the movie so the camera cuts away as the event happens allowing your imagination to do the work, just like Tarantino did.

End credits
There’s no doubt, Eidos and the Volatile Games team have gone to a lot of trouble to craft a game that’s true to the spirit of the original movie. They have lovingly recreated the atmosphere and the music but have had the imagination to extend the world beyond that in the movie to provide a rich and varied gaming experience. The multi-style mode of playing adds further depth and dimension making the game play differently every time. The whole package is as imaginative and witty as the original, play it and you’re bound to be spouting Tarantino-esque dialog for months to come.

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Mobile Devices To Dominate: EIEF06

Desktop computing will be dead by the end of the decade and laptops will be following shortly after. That was the view of Graham Brown-Martin of Handheld Learning in an entertaining presentation at day two of the EIEF.

Brown-Martin’s vision is that computing will migrate to a new breed of portable, hand held devices that make use of cheap, high-bandwidth Internet connections to access data stored remotely on Net-based servers.

The drivers behind this change include the impracticality of desktop-based computers for our changing lifestyles and the rise of home entertainment technology, which will include many of the functions now present in computers.

The coming of HDTV coupled with the rapid uptake of digital TV and the growth of alternative modes of accessing TV (there are on average, 4-5 screens capable of accessing TV in every UK home) mean that the uptake of high-bandwidth broadband services could be extremely quick bringing access to an userbase well beyond just computer users.

The other side of the proposition is high capacity storage. We all create gigabytes of digital stuff with our collections of MP3’s, pictures and games but not everyone is at the cutting edge of data backups and archiving. Enter online data warehousing services such as, who are providing gigabytes of cheap (and in some cases free) online storage where you can dump your data and access it from any Internet device.

Brown-Martin’s position is that we are no longer 20th century factory workers. We are mobile. All our stuff can be accessed in one location in cyberspace, assuming the media is scalable and interoperable. This model is the backbone of successful Web 2.0 companies such as Mp3 tunes, Skype, MySpace and YouTube.

As an illustration of this, and of his extremely cool mobile phone, Brown-Martin demonstrated a home made remix of the Snakes on a Plane teaser, edited with a mobile and a Macbook. The result was uploaded directly to YouTube from the phone then downloaded again (wirelessly) using a Nokia Internet tablet.

Readers of Digital-Lifestyles are no strangers to this kind of digital dabbling but there are issues to be overcome. As Brown-Martin conceded, there are privacy issues, what happens when the government comes along and demands to access all Streamload’s stored data?

Fast connections are only half the communications issue. For these to be effective enough to allow true access from anywhere, they have to be ubiquitous. We already have a plethora of mobile devices but most of our fast connections are fixed. Meaning that we are all still fighting over desk space, wall sockets and power points (as the general lack of power sockets at the EIEF venue amply illustrated). True mobile computing will require blanket wireless access in major towns and cities and on public transport, services that are still in their infancy just now.

On a more mundane level, what happens if we decide to shift our data from one provider to another, the digital equivalent of moving house? Even with a fast connection, downloading gigabytes of data and uploading to another provider is just too painful a process to contemplate.

Brown-Martin proposed that there must be some way to allow linking from one online provider to another so that we can allow access to our own content repositories without having to physically copy data. This kind of slick, server-based functionality is the kind of service that will be the killer app for Brown-Martin’s vision of mobile computing. With that, all your data shelved in secured and permanently accessible online storage and a permanent high-speed broadband link you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with all that grey box malarkey!

Handheld Learning

Inanimate Alice Episode 3 Premieres: EIEF06

Inanimate Alice is a story about a games developer called Alice created by Kate Pullinger, Ian Harper & Chris Joseph. The story tells of her childhood and how she created and played games as she grew up in different countries around the world. Inanimate Alice a multi part episodic, interactive game which is available online at

The story was written by author Kate Pullinger (author of The Piano) in conjunction with script writer Ian Harper & multi media designer Chris Joseph. The idea grew out of a David Puttnam project Harper was working on. Pullinger brought in Joseph, whom she had worked with previously on the game The Breathing Wall.

The team have a well developed concept for the sequence (which has just reached episode 3) which should see 10 episodes of the game with potential for development into other media including graphic novels, a multi-player online environment and, ultimately, film.

The newly completed episode 3 was premiered for the audience. Part game, part film, part text, Inanimate Alice utilises a wide range of styles and techniques to engage its audience. Combining collages with CGI action, stylised animation within animation, and narrative text overlaid on the visuals, Inanimate Alice is visually extremely attractive. There’s also a clever soundtrack that marries pumping action music with atmospheric effects, electronic noise and interference to achieve a rich multimedia experience.

In a question and answer session the trio revealed that the project is aimed at the widest possible audience (especially non-gamers) but is currently most popular amongst 16-35 year old females.

Pullinger is also appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival later this week. Unfortunately Inanimate Alice will not be on her list of topics. “Book publishing” she said, “is decades behind in terms of interactivity and convergence. Interactive narrative content is not of interest to literary festivals.”

Which is a shame, as Pullinger is amongst a new breed of writers who is happy producing material for a variety of media including print, radio, movies and now games.

For the moment, Inanimate Alice remains a Web project, but the team are looking at all possibilities for developing the project. The suggestion by one audience member that players could direct the plot in future episodes was warmly welcomed and Pullinger cited tv’s Lost as the type of experience the team were modelling Alice on. A new type of narrative with a strong story at the core and lots of spin off projects and interactive elements to keep the audience interested.

The session finished with a panel discussion, including Rosanna Sun, on movie and game convergence. There was a broad consensus that content was the most important aspect of any media project. Technology, while important, was felt to be secondary to the telling of a good story.

How The Matrix Video Game Was Developed: EIEF06

How The Matrix Game Was Developed: EIEFThe second day of EIEF got underway with seminar on media convergence with the first speaker being Rosanna Sun of Velvetelvis.

Sun chatted about the genesis of Velvetelvis in the Wachowski brothers’ Matrix movies, giving an interesting insight into the beginning of the convergence of movies and games from the Hollywood perspective.

As a film producer, Sun was involved in producing The Matrix movie sequels when the Wachowski’s asked her to make video game at same time. They wanted to treat it as part of the movie, integrated with all the production elements of the movies.

Rosanna’s task was to coordinate the content across all the different companies and media involved in the whole Matrix project to turn it into a game. She told the audience of the huge effort required in getting all the different aspects to come together.

How The Matrix Game Was Developed: EIEFEach different media (movie, games etc) has different production schedules and sharing ‘assets’ amongst them became an enormous scheduling problem. Visual fx shots are typically done last in movies, for games they needed to be ready 6 months prior to launch. This meant some sequences had to be literally re-directed from movie sequences.

On the positive side, this process became a creative driving force, making all involved (visual fx team, set designers and wardrobe) think more creatively. Imaging material for the virtual game worlds allowed the teams to stretch their imaginations without being held back by the requirements of the physical world.

After her experiences on The Matrix, Sun realised she was working in a new world of convergence. She created a company with her partner (a visual effects designer) to do a further Matrix game. When that fell through, they decided to continue to utilise their hard won, cross-disciplinary knowledge to develop projects across the games and movie industries.

The company has worked on a variety of major projects including Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, 6 legged freaks, Matrix games, Swordfish, The Relic, Fantastic Four and Xmen 3.

How The Matrix Game Was Developed: EIEFDuring Q&A
Following the presentation, Sun took some questions from the audience. When asked about the possibilities of developing into mobile games, she revealed that Velvetelvis was about to launch a viral mobile game in conjunction with the movie Crank. The game will allow players to rack up a score, arcade-style, and then forward it to their friends.

When a questioner observed that he had never seen a great movie become a great game or vice versa, Sun said “it’s about making a great story rather than game or movie. You need to step back from the product, think about the IP (intellectual property) and the content.”

The Long Tail Book Review (95%): Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More

The Long Tail Book Review: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More
by Chris Anderson

Published by Random House (UK), Hyperion Books (USA),

Retail price – UK £17.99, USA $24.95

Buy the book from Amazon US or Amazon UK
Buy the audio book from Amazon US

The Long Tail Book Review: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More (95%)The Long Tail is an important manual for the new economics of the Internet and digital culture. As well as demystifying the numbers it provides an essential guide to how to navigate a world where everything is available, all the time. Score: 95%

Every once in a while a book comes along that completely captures and defines a particular period. Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital defined the blossoming digital culture of the mid 90’s, now The Long Tail shows how the Internet will radically change our habits and behaviour.

Chris Anderson illustrates how our buying habits have been shaped by the economics of big business, creating the blockbuster culture; the selling of a narrow range of products to the biggest possible group of consumers. Anderson shows how the Internet, through companies such as eBay, Google and Amazon, radically changes that, allowing us to be more exploratory and specific about what we buy.

“The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.”

Anderson provides and eloquent and detailed analysis of various aspects of Internet culture and business and illustrates how the explosion of niche markets and filtering tools will allow us to zero-in on things that interest us, potentially shattering the hold that large manufacturers and retailers have exercised since the mid 20th century.

The Long Tail Book Review: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More (95%)The Long Tail effect is not limited to buying and selling, the process by which the book was written is a case in point. Anderson (editor in chief of Wired magazine) published the original Long Tail article in Wired back in October 04. The article rapidly became a hit and mushroomed into the Long Tail blog which Anderson used to publicly research and test his theories. Shortly before the publication date earlier this month, Anderson released copies of the book to bloggers across the globe for review. The process is a perfect example of a product being tested and developed publicly, thereby generating enough word of mouth interest to create a ready market for it. The strategy was proved a resounding success by the book’s appearance in Amazon’s top ten non-fiction list on its publication day.

Although The Long Tail is a business book, it is also about culture in general and how it’s changing. Freed from the constraints of the blockbuster culture, the consumer is able to delve into niches he never knew existed and also to contribute in a way that was not previously possible. The success of social software services such as Flickr and YouTube has allowed the audience to create and share their own material generating a genuinely new, interactive media which is actually competing in some respects with mainstream broadcast media.

The Long Tail Book Review: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More (95%)Some have taken this to mean that Anderson is sounding the death knell for blockbusters, something which he was at pains to counter on his blog, “Hits Aren’t Dead” he said, “I never said they were. What is dead is the monopoly of the hit. For too long hits or products intended to be hits have had the stage to themselves, because only hit-centric companies had access to the retail channel and the retail channel only had room for best-sellers. But now blockbusters must share the stage with a million niche products, and this will lead to a very different marketplace.”

While not all the ideas in The Long Tail are Anderson’s own, like any good journalist, he manages to articulate the complexities of a difficult subject in a lucid and entertaining style.

The Long Tail is an important manual for the new economics of the Internet and digital culture. As well as demystifying the numbers it provides an essential guide to how to navigate a world where everything is available, all the time.

Score: 95%

Published by Random House (UK), Hyperion Books (USA),

Retail price – UK £17.99, USA $24.95

Buy the book from Amazon US or Amazon UK
Buy the audio book from Amazon US

ISPs Give Mixed Response On BPI Attempt to Clamp Down

BPI Clamps Down On File SharingThe BPI continued its policy of clamping down on illegal file sharing this week, when it contacted UK ISPs Cable and Wireless and Tiscali with requests to suspend 59 accounts.

BPI Chairman Peter Jamieson said, “We have demonstrated in the courts that unauthorised filesharing is against the law. We have said for months that it is unacceptable for ISPs to turn a blind eye to industrial-scale copyright infringement. We are providing Tiscali and Cable & Wireless with unequivocal evidence of copyright infringement via their services. It is now up to them to put their house in order and pull the plug on these people.”

In a statement, Cable and Wireless said “Cable & Wireless and its ISP, Bulldog, have an acceptable use policy that covers illegal file-sharing. This would normally mean that any accounts used for illegal file-sharing are closed. We will take whatever steps are necessary to put the matter right.”

Tiscali questioned the BPI’s approach – which saw the announcement being delivered to the press at the same time as the ISPs – and its evidence. In a letter to the BPI, Tiscali pointed out that “You have sent us a spreadsheet setting out a list of 17 IP addresses you allege belong to Tiscali customers, whom you allege have infringed the copyright of your members, together with the dates and times and with which sound recording you allege that they have done so. You have also sent us extracts of screenshots of the shared drive of one of those customers. You state that such evidence is “overwhelming”. However, you have provided no actual evidence in respect of 16 of the accounts. Further, you have provided no evidence of downloading taking place nor have you provided evidence that the shared drive was connected by the relevant IP address at the relevant time.”

BPI Clamps Down On File SharingIn a statement on 12th July, the BPI stated “Early responses from both companies suggest that they will suspend accounts which have clearly been used for illegal filesharing” and indicated that it could supply detailed evidence on the other 16 Tiscali addresses. In an interview on More Four News Tiscali spokesman Richard Ayres said Tiscali’s message to the record industry is “Come to us, give us the details and we’ll absolutely work with you.” Which would seem to be in contradiction of Tiscali’s own letter, which also stated that “Tiscali does not intend to require its customers to enter into the undertakings proposed by you and, in any event, our initial view is that they are more restrictive than is reasonable or necessary.”

Whatever the outcome, the action represents a new approach to the copyright battle that is focused on service providers instead of individuals. Some feel that copyright infringement is being used as a way to stifle innovation and free speech.

Copyright activist Cory Doctorow, claimed that “The BPI is basically asking to replace the “notice-and-takedown” regime that allows anyone to censor any Web-page by claiming it infringes copyright with an even harsher regime: notice-and-termination, where the ability to communicate over the Internet can be taken away on the say-so of anyone who claims you’re doing something naughty with copyright…If this regime had been in place when VoIP was invented, there would be no VoIP”.

BPI Clamps Down On File SharingCoincidentally, the BPI action comes at the same time that the (US based) EFF launched its Frequently Awkward Questions for the Entertainment Industry. The FAQ features a number of pointed questions designed to counter the aggressive behavior of US copyright protection agencies such as the RIAA and MPAA. Among them are points such as “The RIAA has sued over 20,000 music fans for file sharing, who have on average paid a $3,750 settlement. That’s over $75,000,000. Has any money collected from your lawsuits gone to pay actual artists? Where’s all that money going?” and “The RIAA has sued more than 20,000 music fans for file sharing, yet file sharing continues to rapidly increase both online and offline. When will you stop suing music fans?” In the UK, the BPI has issued proceedings against 139 uploaders in the last three years. Of those, 111 settled out of court, paying up to £6,500 in settlement.

The BPI was noticeably absent from the group of industry organizations which gathered in London on the 12th of July to discuss new ways of charging for electronic distribution of copyright material. Their proposal, that “unlicensed intermediaries – rather than consumers” should be “the target of copyright enforcement actions”, was described as “ill-conceived and grasping” by Suw Charman, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

This fragmented and seemingly ad-hoc approach to the copyright issue is doing little to help the overall debate and a groundswell of resistance to both copyright and the way it is enforced has given birth to organizations such as the Pirate Party who demand wide-scale reform of the whole concept.

Future Hype: Review: The Myths of Technology Change (71%)

Future Hype: Review: The Myths of Technology Change (71%)Title: Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change
Author: Bob Seidensticker
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler
Buy at US Amazon $10.37
Buy at UK Amazon £9.89

With the constant bombardment of advertising and continuous slew of new products and developments, it seems like technological change is faster now than ever before, but is that really true? Bob Seidensticker would like to suggest otherwise.

In a new book, FutureHype, Seidensticker sets out to explode the myths surrounding technological growth, “The Internet isn’t that big a deal. Neither is the PC. Abandon all your technology and live in the woods for a week and see if it’s your laptop you miss most.”

Seidensticker, a programmer and former Microsoft programme manager, believes that so much information about technology is misunderstood or left out that the remainder resembles a kind of mythology. This is a refreshing point of view especially if, like me, you’re suspicious that most technology doesn’t deliver what it promises.

Seidensticker sets about contextualising modern technological change by analysing the effects of older technologies. As well as reminding us how important earlier developments are now just part of the landscape (the telephone, electricity, medicines), he unearths some fascinating examples of technologies that never happened. For example, the fax newspaper, broadcast by dozens of US radio stations in the 1930’s and 40’s, provided several daily updates but failed to take-off. This is intriguingly similar to the shortly-to-launch service from The Guardian newspaper offering a regularly updated PDF edition.

Future Hype: Review: The Myths of Technology Change (71%)In other areas Seidensticker is less compelling. He sometimes glosses over details to make his point. Describing redundant proprietary software formats (WordStar is often cited as an example, the most successful word processor of its time, its file format is now unreadable by all modern applications) he neglects to mention developments such as Open Source software, XML or research into digital archiving, all of which are making progress to eliminating exactly that kind of problem.

On discussion of the Internet he asserts that “important applications aren’t new and new one’s aren’t important” a gigantic generalisation which, by his own arguments, is untrue. Sure, loads of current applications and technologies are simply developments from older ones and the great majority of them are not important, but, by his own logic, the chances are that the next big thing is already with us, just struggling to break through. It’s also more likely that it will not take the form of something that went before and so may be harder to recognise.

Quibbles aside, Seidensticker does make a good case and I found myself nodding in agreement with his assessments of new technology often being inferior to old (just compare digital TV to a decent analogue signal or an MP3 to a CD or an analogue recording) and how our garbage may be more permanent than our written records.

I did find myself wondering who FutureHype was aimed at? Many of Seidensticker’s observations don’t take a lot of thought to work out (anyone who cares to research even a little can find out that the Internet began in the 60’s, that there’s a law of unintended consequences or that technology is not always for the good), so anyone who is interested is likely to know these things already, and the general reader is unlikely to require this much detail. On reaching the final, slightly condescending, chapter – a list of do’s and don’ts that reads like a rather stuffy style guide – I realised that this book is for technology journalists.

On that level, FutureHype is a very useful primer about the way in which technology has affected society. Seidensticker does a solid and entertaining job of documenting the rather empty bravura that surrounds technology and its unpredictable and often unexpected effects. It’s a welcome addition to the burgeoning library of books about the rapid pace of change and one which provides a rather more sober and level headed overview. Nerdy tech-scribes will find it fascinating, a more general readership may be harder to reach.

Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change

Buy at US Amazon $10.37
Buy at UK Amazon £9.89

US Democratic Party Adopt Net Neutrality

The US Democratic party has adopted net-neutrality as a party-political issue following the rejection of a second pro-neutrality amendment in a vote late last week.

Previously we reported on the demise of the first pro-neutrality amendment as part of the ongoing review of US telecommunications law.

The Senate Commerce Committee were tied at 11 for and 11 against, with Republican members voting against the amendment and Democrats for it. A majority vote is necessary for a bill to pass. Afterwards, Republican Senator for Alaska, Ted Stevens, gave his reasons for voting against the bill as well as displaying his obviously comprehensive grasp of the technicalities of the Web, “It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.”

The Democratic party subsequently took up the issue with the slogan “Republicans: They sold the environment to Exxon, and sold the war to Halliburton. Now they want to sell the Internet to at&t.”

Former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry commented, “This vote was a gift to cable and telephone companies, and a slap in the face of every Internet user and consumer.” Another Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden, placed a ‘hold’ on the bill which temporarily stops further progress but a decision is inevitable and both sides are marshaling forces behind their cause.

Lawrence Lessig greeted news of Democratic support with caution, “Good for the Dems that they got it. Bad that the issue is now within the grips of party politics.” He acknowledged that, give the amount of money involved, political involvement was inevitable.

Many fear that the loss of net-neutrality will signal virtual civil war on the Internet and that commercial interests are having too much effect on the US Legislature. Jeannine Kenney, Senior Policy Analyst, Consumers Union offered a concise summary, “The network neutrality nondiscrimination principle, which protects competition, maximizes consumer choice, and guarantees fair market practices, is one step closer to being abandoned with the Senate Commerce Committee’s vote. This endangers the most important engine for economic growth and democratic communication in modern society. Nondiscrimination made possible the grand successes of the Internet. Its removal can take them away.”

iTunes Law: France Court Controversy

iTunes Law: France Court ControversyLast week the French legislature approved a new law which could radically change the landscape of digital audio. The so-called ‘iTunes Law’ is designed to break the control hardware manufacturers exert over the type of content that can be played by their digital music players and software. The result would be that companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Napster would have to make their data formats interoperable, thereby opening their systems to music from rivals. A regulatory body could be set up to police the sector.

Apple has not yet responded to this development but has previously called the bill “state-sponsored piracy.” The US based group, Americans for Technology Leadership (founded by technology companies), commented “Once government regulators take away a company’s intellectual property rights and dictate that they must allow competitors to benefit from their creations, they break the cycle of innovation that benefits consumers by destroying the incentive companies have to create new and better products.”

While it’s not surprising that technology companies would wish to defend their business models, consumers could be forgiven for finding the current plethora of differing standards, restrictive legal agreements and crippled playback formats a significant turn-off. Anyone who remembers vinyl, or even pre-DRM CDs, may recall a simpler world where all the players could play all the media and might wonder where things went awry? French Culture Minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, said “Any artist’s work that is legally acquired should be playable on any digital device”.

iTunes Law: France Court Controversy The iTunes Law does, however, leave a get-out for the tech companies. A newly-added clause permits artists to exercise control over additional DRM. In short, artists could object to their music being transferred into other formats, thereby ensuring that current practices could continue unaffected. This loophole would require renegotiation of existing contracts, something Apple et al may wish to avoid given record companies’ desire to recoup perceived losses due to piracy. Lawyers observed that the new law is complex and its impact will be difficult to judge until it is tested in court.

The bill is likely to become law in France within a matter of weeks and its progress has kicked off a debate about access to digital content in countries across Europe including the UK, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. With several countries poised to review national copyright laws in the coming months, the iTunes Law could have wide-ranging impact.