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The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008, which was blasted by consumer groups and library associations this week as an "enormous gift" to the content industry, won the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon by a 14-4 vote. As first reported by Ars this morning, a series of amendments were added during committee mark-up, providing privacy safeguards for records seized under the law and stripping away several controversial provisions—though not the hotly contested section empowering the Justice Department to litigate civil infringement suits on behalf of IP owners. HangZhou Night Net

One significant change to the proposed legislation addressed, at least in some small measure, a concern broached by Public Knowledge and other consumer groups in a letter to the Judiciary Committee yesterday. Though the amended bill still creates expanded provisions for civil forfeiture of property implicated in an IP infringement case—potentially including servers or storage devices containing the personal data of large numbers of innocent persons—lawmakers altered the bill's language to affirmatively require a court to issue a protective order "with respect to discovery and use of any records or information that has been impounded," establishing "procedures to ensure that confidential, private, proprietary, or privileged information contained in such records is not improperly disclosed or used." They did not, however, go so far as to immunize the data of "virtual bystanders" from seizure, as the letter had requested.

The forfeiture section was also modified to exclude, as grounds for seizure, the violation of the "anticircumvention" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The old language would have allowed for forfeiture of tools that could be used to circumvent digital rights management software.

Excised, as well, was language that would have barred the "transshipment" through the United States of IP infringing goods. Since different countries have different IP rules, this language would potentially have defined goods that were legal in both their country of origin and their final destination—because, for instance, differences in copyright terms allowed works to fall into the public domain overseas while still under copyright in the US—as contraband.

The amendments also added a seat for a representative of the Food and Drug Administration, as well as any "such other agencies as the President determines to be substantially involved in the efforts of the Federal Government to combat counterfeiting and piracy" on the "interagency intellectual property enforcement advisory committee" that the bill would create.

Two new provisions were tacked on to the end of the law. The first directs the Comptroller General to conduct a study of the impact of piracy on domestic manufacturers and develop recommendations for improving the protection of IP in manufactured goods. (Wouldn't it be better to do this sort of thing before enacting enforcement legislation?)

The second is a nonbinding "sense of congress" resolution stipulating that, while "effective criminal enforcement of the intellectual property laws against such violations in all categories of works should be among the highest priorities of the Attorney General," the AG should give priority, in cases of software piracy, to cases of "willful theft of intellectual property for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain," especially those "where the enterprise involved in the theft of intellectual property is owned or controlled by a foreign enterprise or other foreign entity." Which is to say, that copy of Photoshop you pulled off BitTorrent last week isn't on the top of the Justice Department's docket… yet.

Remaining intact was language that would give the Justice Department authority to pursue civil suits against IP infringers, awarding any damages won to the patent, copyright, or trademark holders. Critics have blasted this provision as a gift of free, taxpayer-funded legal services to content owners. The bill now goes to the full Senate, and must still be recognized with its counterpart legislation in the House, which lacks the language deputizing the DoJ to bring suit on behalf of IP owners.

It's easy to develop a confusing picture of what goes on inside of multiuser virtual worlds, such as Second Life and World of WarCraft. Some reports suggest that the virtual reality enables people to escape from social interactions they otherwise find difficult; others highlight how users of virtual worlds find them satisfying because of the rich social interactions they enable. Some researchers at Northwestern University looked into just how well real-life social influences translate to the the virtual realm and discovered one that does: racism. HangZhou Night Net

The authors used two different instances of social manipulation that are known to work well in the real world. The first is the "foot in the door" (FITD) approach, in which a small, easily accomplished favor is asked. These tend to make the person who granted the favor happy about their cooperation, and more likely to agree to further requests, even if they require more effort.

The second method, called "door in the face" (DITF), accomplishes the same thing using a different approach. The initial request, instead of being easy to handle, involves an extensive effort on the part of the person asked. Usually, that request is declined, but it makes people more likely to agree to a further, less time-intensive request. Instead of being inwardly-focused, the DITF method depends largely on a person's perception of the individual or organization making the request; the more responsible and credible they seem, the more likely the second request will be agreed to.

The researchers added a second layer on top of these two methods of manipulation by using avatars with skin tones set at the two extremes of light and dark that the environment, There.com, allows. This let them check for whether another pervasive social influence, racism, holds sway in the virtual world.

The tests involved the ability of There.com users to instantly teleport to any location in the game. The control condition, and the second request for both the FITD and DITF approaches, was a teleport to a specific location to take part in a screenshot. For FITD, the first, easy request was a screenshot in place. For DITF, the initial request involved a series of screenshots around the virtual world that might take as much as two hours.

416 There.com users were approached at random. Somewhat amusingly, about 20 of those approached for each test did something unexpected. For FITD, they simply teleported away before the question could be completed. Even more oddly, over 20 people agreed to spend a few hours taking screenshots with random strangers.

It turns out that social manipulation works just as well in virtual worlds as it does in the real one, with one very significant caveat. The FITD approach, which depends on people feeling good about themselves, increased cooperation on the second request from roughly 55 percent to 75 percent. DITF did even better, boosting the fraction of those who agreed to the second request to over 80 percent—but only if the avatar making the request was white. If that avatar was black, the response dropped to 60 percent, which was statistically indistinguishable from the control.

Since the DITF method depends on subjects' perception of the one doing the asking, the obvious conclusion is that black avatars are viewed as less appealing than white ones. The virtual world not only recapitulates social manipulation, but also social problems. The judgment directed towards the avatar's color is even more surprising, given that There.com allows its users to change their avatar's appearance instantly.

The authors don't seem to know whether to celebrate the finding, since it opens up new avenues for pursuing social research, or to condemn the fact that racism has been dragged from the real to virtual worlds. The recognize that there is an alternate interpretation—namely, that people judge users for having chosen to use a black avatar, rather than for being black—but don't find that alternative any more appealing.

Social Influence, 2008. DOI: 10.1080/15534510802254087

The huggable bunch at Greenpeace have given a thumbs up to Apple's announcement this week of a refreshed line of iPods that are much more environmentally friendly than past versions. In the same breath, the organization also took the chance to add to its recyclable Christmas wish list. HangZhou Night Net

On Greenpeace's official blog, the organization patted Apple on the back by proclaiming "It's great to see Apple dropping toxic chemicals like PVC, BFRs and mercury in their latest products." As we reported in our live coverage from Apple's "Let's Rock" event, Jobs touted the new iPods as having arsenic-free glass, as well as being BFR-free, mercury-free, PVC-free, and "highly recyclable." Jobs announced last year that Apple was working towards boosting efforts in recycling by 2010.

In the same post, though, Greenpeace went on to point out that greener iPods aren't actually all that special, since companies like Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung have achieved this with small iPod-sized gadgets. "While these iPods may rock what would really shake up the computer industry is if Apple sticks to its promise and becomes the first company to make personal computers free of toxic PVC and BFR's."

In a surprisingly candid article posted to Apple's "Hot News" section last May, Steve Jobs outlined his company's plans for "A Greener Apple." Among the environmental manufacturing challenges that Jobs tackled in the piece, Jobs said that Apple plans to "completely eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs in its products," as well as eliminate the use of arsenic in all of its displays, by the end of 2008. We'll keep an eye out for new prose from Jobs, or criticism from Greenpeace, on whether these goals are met.

Robert Scoble and his laptop. Note the Ars sticker.

If it weren't for the shaky Internet connectivity, you might get the impression that TechCrunch is in the business of throwing really great conferences.The company sold 1,700 tickets to TechCrunch50 at between $2,000 to $3,000 a pop and attracted a battalion of press to cover the event. For those unfamiliar, TechCrunch is a blog focusing on technology startups and this is the second year in a row they've held their "American Idol"-esque competition for stealth-mode startups. HangZhou Night Net

This year, the lineup has ballooned to include alittle more than 50 companies, and their presentations are spread out over three days. Each company launches its product to the world via an eight-minute presentation that is judged by a motley mixture of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, Silicon Valley executives, a-list bloggers, and web celebrities.

By Wednesday, the judge's votes will be combined with an audience contribution in order to pick a winning company, which will go home with a comically large fake check made out for $50,000 (a real, smaller check for that value is delivered at a later date).

Day one

The first day is done and Ars has picked through the 15 or so companies that presented; we found a scant three that might interest our readers.

FairSoftware
One of the first setup screens on FairSoftware; share allocation and founders

The first is a web-based product called FairSoftware that allows individuals and groups of individuals to form legally binding pseudo-corporations and distribute virtual "shares" of that organization to contributors and founders. FairSoftware has spent a considerable amount of time working with lawyers to craft a legal document called the "Software Bill of Rights" that all participants agree to. The idea is that entrepreneurs can start collaborating and sharing revenue with a minimum of legal fuss.

Starting a new organization and new projects is as easy as using Gmail. Any revenue brought in through the sale of products is divvied up among shareholders based on their current allocations. Because these shares are not "real" and therefore not subject to SEC rules, they can be tossed around like candy to just about anyone. Five hundred shares to the FedEx guy, 250 to the guy who suggested a critical bug fix, and so on. The system even has mechanisms in place to "upgrade" your corporation to the real deal once you pass a certain threshold of awesomeness.

OtherInbox

The second stand-out was an e-mail-based service called OtherInbox. The idea itself is as old as the eternal battle between geeks and spammers. Where techies might manually create e-mail addresses for site registration and then manage the flood that comes in, OtherInbox automates the whole process.

When you sign up for OtherInbox, a unique subdomain is created at otherinbox.com (i.e. clint.otherinbox.com), and all mail sent to any address at that subdomain is sent to a single inbox. Incoming e-mail then gets routed to folders based on which virtual user the mail is sent to. For example, mail sent to [email protected] gets routed into a special folder called "spammywebsite" on the OtherInbox side of things.

Imagine the relief of being able to do this for every time you have to toss an e-mail into a web form and, instead of wading through the results, having your newsletters, pseudo-spam, and auto-mailed messages sorted into these nice buckets.

One of OtherInbox's claims to greatness is that it helps you identify situations where a third-party sells your e-mail address to a fourth-party who begins flooding your inbox. If you give out the same e-mail address to all parties, you'd never know who sold you out. In this instance, since you will be using unique e-mail addresses, you instantly know who the scumbag is and can cut them off by simply disabling that e-mail address in the administrative panel.

Note the 'Dfshasdfhlkjadshjk' line. It's that trivial to insert new buckets into the system.

This will be totally game-changing for about two weeks—until the spammers realize they can just filter for *.otherinbox.com accounts and prepend "random-recipient-xxxx" to the domain instead of the carefully crafted address you gave them initially. OtherInbox's "spam blocking" is predicated on a false trust between users and potential spammers.

Excepting the anti-spam features—which will be effective against mostly benign e-mail blasters—the system of auto-organizing your regularly sent e-mails, the nice web interface, and regular status reports on your buckets are all really nice.

Yammer

Sure, it's a pretty clever rip-off of Twitter with some slick AJAX poured on top, but Yammer may fill a significant niche. The functionality, look, and feel of Yammer are pure Twitter, but it incorporates a system for segregating users into logical "organizations" based on e-mail addresses. It also asks users "what are you working on" as opposed to "what are you doing," but really, come on.

The very active Ars Technica Yammer network

If I were to sign up with [email protected] (and verify that I own this e-mail address), I would initiate the Arstechnica group at Yammer. When subsequent users with arstechnica.com e-mail addresses sign up, they end up in the same group—effectively starting a standalone instance of Twitter for Ars Technica employees (or at least those with arstechnica.com e-mail addresses).

Beyond that one core differentiator, the service allows corporations to pony up some cash,enablingthem to take ownership of their group and access administrative, moderation, and customization functions. While there is no publicly documented API (this is bad!), Yammer is already providing an iPhone interface, a BlackBerry application, and SMS and instant messenger gateways.

Keep checking back over the next few days for more jewels from the conference. If you'd like to see photos from the conference as we're taking them, keep tabs on the following Flickr photoset.

New iPods and possibly even a major update to the iPhone OS aren't the only things that people will be watching for at Apple's "Let's Rock" event today. Between Wall Street, analyst firms and your garden variety blogger, the speculation over Steve Jobs' health just won't quit. HangZhou Night Net

This most recent bout of questioning started after Jobs' WWDC '08 keynote at which some felt the Apple CEO looked a little gaunt. A few incendiary blog posts here, some rampant speculation there, and eventually Apple decided to comment publicly on the issue.

The chatter about Jobs' health continued, however, since the company stuck with its remarkably concise information-sharing policies. Jobs eventually spoke off the record about his health with the New York Times, where he shared that he had indeed been sick with something more serious than Apple's claims of a "common bug," but nothing detrimental to his health or his abilities to perform his job. Jobs also clarified that the surgery for pancreatic cancer he had in 2003 leaves most patients with permanent weight loss, but again, nothing to worry about.

That phone call seemed to have quelled most discussion, but Bloomberg slipped in late August and prematurely published Steve Jobs' obituary during a routine edit (remember: it is completely normal for major news organizations to pre-write obituaries for famous folks and celebrities). Adding more fuel to the rekindled fire, Dan Lyons of Fake Steve Jobs and now Newsweek fame claimed to have heard on September 3 from "people close to [Jobs]" that he is "really sick" and not looking so hot. We haven't been able to clarify exactly when Lyon spoke with his sources, however, so if it was a month or two ago, the "not-serious-but-more-than-a-common-bug" issue Jobs confirmed he had could still have been in full effect.

Now, just before whatever Apple is set to announce, upgrade, or set off fireworks for, AppleInsider says some analysts like Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster are confident that Jobs will be on stage and in full form. "While some investors are concerned that Jobs will not deliver the keynote, we have reason to believe he will," Munster said. "Therefore, we believe his health has improved since the June event, which would be a positive for the stock."

Considering the amount of Apple's original and current success being attributed to Jobs himself, the concern over his health is understandable. As we've pointed out before, though, Apple will be in more than capable hands for the eventual day when Jobs decides to retire and watch someone else give Apple's keynotes for a change.

For now, we'll take Jobs' word on his own health, and we share Munster's confidence that he'll take the stage for today's keynote. Be sure to watch Ars Technica's front page for our own Jacqui Cheng's liveblog of the "Let's Rock" event at 10am PT, 1pm ET.

Running with an iPod isn't too difficult, since you'll usually have a hand free to switch songs or pump up the volume, but things get a bit more difficult when you're cycling. Sure, you'll be able to operate the device fine most of the time, but steering one-handed while going down a hill may not be the best of ideas. If you've just got to have tunes while you're riding, Macworld has pointed out a device called the iBikeConsole, which will let you mount an iPod on your bike, use your iPod as a cycling computer, and even control your iPod wirelessly while riding. HangZhou Night Net

According to the website, the system comes with a shock-absorbing mount for your iPod nano, although you don't exactly have to worry about the hard drive getting jostled around. All three generations of iPod nano are supported, and by the looks of the device the new iPod nanos should work as well. The mounting system requires no tools, and is also "weatherproof." The wireless remotes are probably the cooler part of the system, and allow cyclists to easily change songs and control the volume. Last but not least, the device lets your iPod double as a cycling computer, and can even store data after your ride is over.

As you might guess, a system like this probably isn't recommended for folks who ride their bikes in heavy traffic, since having your music thumping doesn't exactly make it easy to hear cars and other pain-inducing motorized contraptions that may be coming up behind you. In fact, several Macworld commenters point out that cycling with earplugs in both ears may be illegal in some states, so you might want to check out your local laws before you buy the iBikeConsole. If you're still sold on it, the system is currently retailing for $76, and you can just head on over to the site and pick one up.

EA has been dealing with something of a PR problem with Spore, as gamers bomb the Amazon ratings with one-star reviews to make their feelings known on the issue of DRM. Who can blame them? Placing a limit on how many times you can install a game you own, and doing so after the game has already been made available via the expected channels online in pirated form, is lame. EA wants you to know that it is listening, however, and the install limit for Red Alert 3 has been raised to five. HangZhou Night Net

In other words, EA has decided to loosen the handcuffs slightly. We're supposed to be very happy at this "progress." Chris Corry, the Executive Producer on the game, has more details:

Life happens. I know it's unlikely, but
for those unlucky few who install the game and have their
machines nuked (virus, OS reinstall, major hardware
upgrade, etc.) five times, EA Customer Service will be on hand
to supply any additional authorizations that are
warranted. This will be done on a case-by-case basis by
contacting customer support.

So if you use your computer like us geeks and do a lot of reinstalls, or simply uninstall and reinstall the game enough to hit the five user limit, you'll have to plead your case to EA's customer service and hope they grant you some more use of the game you've already paid for. No promises though. This is on a "case-by-case" basis. Another EA employee on the forum described this as "the lenient measures" they are taking for those of us with concerns.

It's the phrase "lenient measures" that's so insulting, as if imposing an install limit, and then upping it by two, is doing us a huge favor. I realize many of you are reading us from work, so I have abstained from putting an image of a big middle finger in this post. Trust me, I'm still thinking it.

One member of the forum put it very well. "Making life harder for customers and a funny joke for hackers is the wrong way to fight piracy. The game will be hacked one hour after release, and pirates won't have any install limits. All those who buy original will have install limit, 3, 5, or 20, it doesn't matter. Install limits are a pain in the ass for everyone who buys the original and a joke for pirates. So who are you really fighting… piracy or your customer?" The original poster may not have spoken English as their native tongue, but the point is still made. Another international EA customer points out that the company is giving their user base the shaft in another way: you have to call customer support to get more activations.

"EA does have customer support in Australia," he wrote. "It comes to you at the low low price of $2.48 a minute."

Legislators in both the US and EU have been carefully eying the collection of personal identity information by search companies, raising the specter of mandated time limits on the retention of this data. That has caught the attention of many companies, leading a number to set more rigorous privacy policies. Google is among those paying attention, as last year, it bowed to pressure from the EU and shaved six months off its retention of identity information. In a further move to avert potential legislation, Google announced yesterday that it would cut the figure in half: IP addresses in its logs will now be anonymized after nine months. HangZhou Night Net

Google has some obvious interests in keeping track of specific IP addresses. All of its businesses, from search to directed advertising, rely on identifying connections among content and its readers, and IP addresses can help with that process. They're also essential in the identification of click fraud, which can reduce the value of the ad services Google provides. Finally, they can help the search giant identify malware attacks that either target its servers, or spread by using information obtained there.

But it's also in Google's business interests not to disclose exactly what's done with IP address information, lest competitors use that to reverse-engineer its secret sauce, and that has caused some significant public scrutiny. Its data retention policies have come up during a number of Congressional hearings, but the most significant concerns have been raised by the EU, where a working party on data protection called Article 29 has been formulating recommendations for legal policies on identity retention under the aegis of the Justice and Home Affairs office (motto: "Freedom, Security, and Justice").

Google's initial scaling back of identity retention came in response to Article 29, and the new policy comes along with a detailed response (PDF) to concerns raised by the group. The search giant now claims that it has improved the computer algorithms it uses to analyze visits to its site, and can extract sufficient information from nine months of data; the logs will be retained afterward, but IP addresses will be anonymized.

Google undoubtedly has legitimate business and security reasons for retaining specific IP addresses in its logs for a finite period of time, and it definitely has business reasons for not revealing precisely what it does with that information. Still, it's hard to read the company's defense of its policies without the sense that it's engaging in some significant hyperbole. Unless you read carefully, the frequent references to user security would lead you to suspect that merely performing a search would leave users at risk were IP addresses not retained. An earlier letter (PDF) to the chair of Article 29 actually argues that retention may be required by Sarbanes-Oxley regulations.

It seems likely that Google could afford to be more transparent about how retention of IP information in logs meets its various needs without being so transparent that it torpedoes its own business. And that, more than any algorithmic struggles to cut the retention times, may be what's needed to get legislators off its back.

Newest updates are at the top! HangZhou Night Net

-Steve Jobs says thanks, it's over! Check Infinite Loop for hands-on with the new iPods!
-Jack Johnson is getting a standing ovation
-Music is done, Steve Jobs is back
-There's a guy in the camera pit dancing to the music
-Playing another song
-Song is over, Jack Johnson is thanking Steve Jobs, thanking iTunes
-(Made a few clarifications/fixes to what was typed below)
-Jack Johnson now performing
-Special guest today is Jack Johnson
-"Whenever we have a music event, we like to remind ourselves why we do it"
-We appreciate the chance to share this with you this morning (sez Steve)
-"Strongest lineup of iPods we've ever had for holiday season '08"

-Software is available this Friday for both iPhone and iPod touch
-Backing up to iTunes is dramatically faster, less crashing
-Significantly improved battery life, fewer call drops, fixed a lot of bugs
-New software for iPhone too, 2.1

-Free update for iPod touch users from 2.0, $9.99 from 1.x
-New iPod touch comes with new version of software, 2.1
-All models are available today. Now playing new iPod touch ad

-3 models: 8GB for $229, 16GB for $299, and 32GB for $399
-"The funnest iPod ever" — Yes, he said funnest, and so did the slide
-Environmentally, checklist looks like nano. Arsenic-free glass, BFR-free, mercury-free, PVC-free, highly recyclable
-"Battery life is astounding" 36 hours of music, 6 hours of video
-Steve Jobs is back to round up iPod touch stuff. "Works with the new headphoens coming out next month"
-"Transport a… package… across town"
-Demoing an EA game coming out later this year, Need for Speed (coming out for all platforms including iPod touch and iPhone at the same time)
-Now demoing Gameloft, "Real Soccer 2009" brand new game shipping today
-"Animations and graphics and interactivity is just incredible!"
-Demoing Spore specifically for the iPod touch (Spore Origins), just released the other day
-Inviting Phil Schiller on stage to give a demo of games that are not yet out on the market
-Now demoing iPod touch features
-App Store available in 62 countries now, all available on iPod touch
-About 700 games on the App Store today
-"This is mind-blowing!" Launched only 60 days ago
-App Store: users have downloaded over 100,000,000 applications

-When you're panning/shuffling in a song, a genius icon will appear, just tap it and it'll save it into your Genius playlist
-Software is all built in for Nike, don't need to plug in the Nike receiver like on the nano, it's all built-in
-UI is "even nicer than it has been," also built in Nike+iPod
-Genius playlist creation, App Store built-in
-built-in speaker like on the iPhone, "really hard for something this thin, for casual listening"
-Integrated volume controls into the side like on the iPhone
-New iPod touch has same 3.5" display, even thinner (looks tapered, stainless steel on back, just like schematics)
-Unlike anything in the marketplace, well for holiday season we're making it even better
-Let's move onto iPod touch: iPod touch is an "incredible product"

-Showing new iPod nano ad
-Also have new in-ear headphones, sell for $79 in October, "we think we really got it right this time"
-New headphones are $29 next month
-Back side has microphone which works great with voice recording app
-Also has volume controls up & down, all right from headphone cable
-New headphones have a little thing on the cable like from the iPhone, if you double click it, goes to next song, single click pause, triple click previous song
-Shipping today, 8GB should be in stock next few days, 16GB available next weekend, "early next week at the latest"
-$149 for 8GB of memory, second model 16GB at $199
-huge range of colors (silver, indigo, blue, lime green, yellow, orange, red, magenta)

-nano-chromatic, "best colors we've ever done"
-New iPods are looking great: arsenic-free glass, BFR-free, mercury-free, PVC-free, highly recyclable -We want to be really environmentally sensitive with these products, biggest thing we worry about are the toxics, we use an internal environmental checklist -That's it for the iPod nano! Great new features, great battery life, "24 hours for music, 4 hours for video"
-Shake to shuffle (awesome) — if you want to skip to the next song, just shake the nano
-Software extras that are "normally" shipped (voice recorder, calendar), now demoing
-Turn it sideways and see full-size album art, see photos in landscape mode, video
-Can create Genius playlists from the nano itself without connecting to iTunes -What are some of the feature? Curved aluminum, curved glass over display, thinnest iPod ever, enhanced UI, accelerometer from iPhone/iPod touch and brought it to the nano
-The one he's showing is silver metal with a black wheel
-"Thinnest iPod we've ever made," oval shape, fits in "beautifully" with the line of first/second gen portrait mode
-New iPod nano for holiday season: tapered, has a black wheel, looks just like the rumors
-Shipped first nano 3 years ago, then second and third gen, became very popular
-iPod classic: discontinuing thick and just going with thin (no one buys the thick): upgrading to 120GB for $249

-Now talking about updates and new products for holiday season
-Over 5,000 accessories for iPod, incredibly thriving ecosystem, "they announce products even before we want them to. It's so funny."
-Now to talk about iPod stuff: Latest NPD data is from July, iPod holds 73.4 percent of the market

-iTunes 8 is available today as a free download
-"Boom," creates a genius playlist that go with the song you're playing
-Going back to music, playing John Mayer (Gravity), just go down to the bottom and push the genius button
-Demoing HD TV shows right now (The Office)
-Now Steve is Demoing the Genius feature ("just one click!") and iTunes

-As people keep using it, Genius keeps getting smarter and smarter, sends back down results
-But it's not just info from you, Apple will combine it with knowledge of millions of other iTunes users as well
-It's all voluntary, your library will send info into the cloud (anonymously) with track names, how many plays, etc.
-How's this all work? iTunes Store is in the cloud, added "Genius Algorithms"
-Genius sidebar makes recommendations from iTunes Store of songs you might want to buy
-Genius: automatically make playlists from songs in your music library that go great together
-New browsing feature
-HDTV shows
-Accessibility
-Genius
-Tons of new stuff
-Biggest thing with iTunes today is iTunes 8, next major release
-All NBC's great shows are coming back not only in SD, but in HD as well
-NBC is coming back to iTunes
-HD shows are $2.99 and you can watch them on the computer (not just Apple TV like movies)
-Adding new content to iTunes: adding HD TV shows
-This has enabled Apple to become the #1 music distributor in any format!
-Over 65 million accounts in iTunes right now
-Music: let's start with iTunes
-"Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated"
-Steve Jobs is out, "We've got some really exciting stuff to share with you"

-We're in, waiting for the event to start. Apple is cracking down on photography from the main area, so we'll have to see about photos. (There's a photo pit, but we're only allowed one spot today.) It's getting dark!

Original post:

It's Tuesday, September 9, which means Apple's special event is mere hours away. We have touched down in San Francisco and are preparing for what we (and most others) believe will be a very iPod-focused event. This is the post that will contain all of our live event coverage when it kicks off at 10am PDT, so keep checking back here for our updates before and during the event. Let's rock it!

A shot of press outside the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, waiting for Let's Rock to begin:

Following a one week delay, the beta for SOCOM: Confrontation, the latest iteration of the long-standing PlayStation franchise, is now underway. Press and pre-order patrons have begun to delve into the tight tactical action, while those who purchased the first issue of Qore will be joining the force on Friday. And while the beta has been a bumpy one thus far, the game does play well for the most part… once you can actually get into a match. HangZhou Night Net

Out of the gate, the beta suffered from some pretty brutal connectivity problems, lag, and other "load related issues." My play time has been marred by long waits for entry into matches and some pretty mean bouts of lag and stuttering in-game. Numerous accounts from other outlets have identified a number of problems, for which Sony and Slant Six Games have gone on the record to apologize. "We are doing everything we can to resolve these issues as quickly as possible and you should see some improvements progressively over the next couple of days," reads the entry on the official SOCOM blog. The first of what will likely be many patches has already gone live today.

Of course, it is a beta for a reason. Thankfully, looking past those issues, SOCOM proves to be a solid third-person shooter with some great community features. Warhawk has long been the standard for organized multiplayer on the PlayStation 3, but it appears that the title will quickly be passed to SOCOM when the game launches. Even in beta, a number of key improvements already trump Incognito's excellent title.

Expect to see this screen a lot if you're in the beta.

For one, voice chat in the beta has been surprisingly excellent. The new official PS3 headsets come with a special high quality mode that SOCOM will take advantage of, but even without them the voice chat is higher quality than any other PS3 titles. Given that the game is so highly tactical and team-oriented, this is good news.

The clan options are also significantly more robust. An integrated clan calendar allows clan leaders to create scheduled events which are pushed out to all members of the clan. These events range from tournaments to clan matches and even open invitationals. Clan leaders can also interact with other clan leaders to set up events for all the clan members involved. Clans themselves can be heavily customized: all clan members have a shared uniform designed when the clan is created, in addition to a clan logo; this distinguishes any and all clan members from "mercenaries and commandos," which are players unaffiliated with any clan.

As for the game play itself, the game plays smoothly when a given room is running well. If you've played SOCOM before, there won't be very many surprises: interface improvements, customization options, and a more fully-featured clan system are the main draws here. Should the beta continue to steadily improve connection-wise, SOCOM: Confrontation should be well worth the $59.99 price tag with the pack-in Bluetooth headset when the game launches October 17.

At the latest in what is becoming an annual September event for Apple, the company today announced a number of new products in time for the holiday rush. We covered the Steve Jobs' "Let's Rock" keynote live in San Francisco, and here is a roundup of the actual announcements and new products. HangZhou Night Net

HD TV shows

Leading off by touting over 65 million accounts worldwide in the iTunes Store, Steve Jobs first announced the arrival of HD TV shows. Shows will cost $2.99 apiece (instead of the typical $1.99 for SD episodes), but unlike the handful of HD movies the store already has, HD TV show episodes can be watched on a computer, not just on an Apple TV. In addition, after a much-publicized breakup, NBC is also returning to the store with its most popular shows, and in HD to boot.

iTunes 8, now with more Genius

The next major announcement is iTunes 8, a major new version of Apple's media management software that governs its iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV ecosystem. Confirming "tons of new stuff" and features that were rumored over the weekend, Jobs announced a new Pandora-like "Genius" feature that can generate playlists of songs "that go great together." A new Genius Sidebar can also anonymously (and voluntarily) send your library info up to the iTunes Store cloud to make smarter recommendations of new music a customer may like. The "Genius Algorithms" that power all of this will also harness everyone's library information to fuel this new community powered music recommendation system.

A new button in the iTunes 8 interface offers easy access to these new Genius features. When you're listening to a song, for example, pressing this button will generate a new playlist based on similar music you already have in your library, as well as recommendations of music in the iTunes Store you might like. iTunes 8 should appear in Software Update for both Mac OS X and Windows users, but you can also easily grab it from iTunes.com.

New iPod nano

The first iPod-related announcement today was an actual discontinuance of the largest traditional iPod, the 160GB iPod classic. "No one buys the thick" one, Jobs said on stage. The iPod classic line will slim down to a single 120GB model for $249, which should be the same size and dimensions as the current 80GB model.

The iPod nano line got a refresh today with an entirely new version as "the thinnest iPod we've ever made." (First, hands-on review of Infinite Loop) It has an oval, tapered shape with a black wheel, and fits "beautifully" with the iPod nano's original, taller portait design. The new iPod nano can create Genius playlists on the go, without having to connect to iTunes, and it also gained the accelerometer from the iPhone and iPod touch for viewing Cover Flow album art, photos, and video when turned sideways. The iPod nano is also gaining a number of new hardware and software features that typically could only be had through third-party accessories (if at all), such as a built-in voice recorder and the ability to shake it to shuffle.

Other new iPod nano features include an iPhone-like headphone set with a new clicker, volume control, and microphone. You can double-click to skip to the next song, press once to pause, three times to go to the previous song, and record voice memos with a microphone on the other side. This set of headphones will cost $29 and arrive next month, along with a new set of higher quality in-ear headphones that will sell for $79." We think we really got it right this time," Jobs said about the new headphones.

Apple claims a "great" battery life for the iPod nano with 24 hours of music and 4 hours for video. The new iPod nanoshould be in stock in the next few days, if not early next week, and will cost $149 for 8GB, $199 for 16GB.

New iPod touches

Calling the iPod touch "an incredible product," Jobs bragged that even though it's "unlike anything in the marketplace… well, for the holiday season we're making it even better." The new iPod touch (first hands-on review on Infinite Loop) has the same 3.5" display but gets thinner with a tapered, stainless steel back (probably to differentiate it from the iPhone). The iPod touch will gain the iPhone's integrated volume controls on its side, and gains a built-in speaker like the iPhone which Jobs claimed was "really hard for something this thin, for casual listening." Genius playlist creation will also be built into the iPod touch.

Another unique feature of the new iPod touch is the integration of the Nike+iPod system for tracking running statistics. Unlike the iPod nano, the hardware receiver has been built into the iPod touch.

The new iPod touch is rated for an "astounding" 36 hours of music and 6 hours of video, will work with the same new clicker headphones as the nano, and is available today in sizes of 8GB for $229, 16GB for $299, and 32GB for $399. Steve Jobs' and Apple's marketing tout the new iPod touch as "the funnest iPod ever." No, that isn't a typo.

New iPhone OS 2.1

The iPhone also got some time in the spotlight today with the much-anticipated announcement of iPhone OS 2.1, the software and firmware that runs both the iPhone and iPod touch. The major update should "significantly" improve battery life, problems with droppped calls, fix a lot of bugs, and backing up to iTunes should be "dramatically" faster. New iPod touches ship with the 2.1 OS update, and it should be available to download for free for all other iPhone and iPod touch owners running iPhone OS 2.0 this Friday. iPod touch owners still using 1.x will need to pay the 2.x upgrade fee of $9.99.

That's a wrap

Jobs ended the event by exclaiming that this is the "Strongest lineup of iPods we've ever had for holiday season '08." As Apple typically ends major keynotes with a performance, Jack Johnson took the stage to wrap up the event.

With digital distribution becoming more and more prominent, online stores hawking downloadable games are a dime a dozen. But standing out from the pack is a new site called Good Old Games that focuses on bringing old, time-tested games into the downloadable era with low prices and no DRM. Though the service, currently in beta, is still young, it already shows signs of being a big deal for PC gamers. HangZhou Night Net

Drawing from a pool of Interplay and Codemasters Windows classics, GOG currently features the likes of Fallout, Fallout 2, Freespace, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, Descent, and many more. The site updates every Tuesday with a handful of new titles, and there are more games due "soon," including Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2, Operation Flashpoint, and Colin McRae Rally 2005.

Prices on the classics currently range from $5.99 for games like Fallout 2 to $9.99 for games like Perimeter. Weekly sales bring down the prices on some of the old games, as well. The true selling point here, though, is that all of the games are completely DRM free and available by direct download through the site. Users can access their purchased games list just by logging into the site and they are free to re-download the game files, manual, and even other tasty bits like stand-alone game soundtracks, desktop wallpapers, and more—all without having to download a special download client or install any invasive software.

The front page of GOG (click for a better look)

In addition, the team at GOG has put much time into ensuring the old classics play on new computers. Working with groups like DOSBox to pack a powerful DOS emulator into games that require it and offering Audiere for high-level audio APIs, the GOG team has ensured that your old PC favorites play as you remember them on your fancy new gaming rig.

A game profile, with ratings, reviews, and requirements (click for a better look)

For a small upstart, the actual website itself is surprisingly polished and sharp-looking in its beta form. Games can be sorted by a number of criteria, including price, publisher, rating, genre, and so forth. Best sellers for the week are made prominent on the store section, as are sales and recommendations based on your purchasing habits. Account information is kept to a relative minimum, and credit card information isn't stored through sessions. Payment options are currently limited to Visa and Mastercard.

The account page with game downloads (click for a better look)

The site also features a relatively large, though currently quiet, community section. Games can be rated and reviewed by GOG users and rewards are handed out to contributing users. Moreover, each game in the library has a forum where players can discuss the title, find modding information, and organize multiplayer matches. The helpful team has already posted a number of how-to guides and modding links for players diving into old titles for the first time.

In an age of increasing amounts of invasive DRM, the GOG store look like a dream for PC gamers. Most of these games are impossible to find on store shelves these days, and GOG has made some PC staples available at reasonable prices with no DRM. With an expanding library, a support staff already hard at work building a strong community even in the early beta stages, and some excellent policies, Good Old Games is a stand-out new portal for our favorite games of yore.

Getting your music on iTunes, Amazon, or eMusic used to be tough without signing on with a label, but services like TuneCore (which we profiled earlier this year) have made it possible for everyone from basement techno geeks to Nine Inch Nails to sell their compositions to the world. Now, TuneCore hopes to offer the same service for films, documentaries, and concert footage. For a few hundred bucks, you too can sell your homemade monster movie on iTunes. HangZhou Night Net

The movie service, currently in beta, will launch in mid-November with the same basic proposition as TuneCore's music offering:

    Pay upfront flat feeHave your work sent out to the digital download stores of your choiceProfit!

TuneCore takes no rights nor percentages, so artists keep all of the money (the stores still take their cut, of course). While an album of music can be delivered for $20 or $30, films will cost much more. Pricing will depend on the length of the work; a 60-minute film will cost $550 and a 90-minute film will cost $770.

The move is clearly good for independent filmmakers, who long had trouble getting adequate distribution for their work, but TuneCore provides little in the way of marketing and promotion. Getting your work on iTunes may be a crucial first step, but it certainly won't be enough to turn you and your camcorder into the next Hollywood mogul.

It does provide more options for selling video content apart from the studio system, though. YouTube and other streaming services have developed ways to share ad revenue with filmmakers, but access to major download services like iTunes has been much slower in coming. While iTunes will be the first store that TuneCore supports, we expect the company to offer as many options as possible, as soon as possible, much as it does for music.

Look for our award-winning documentary, Ars Xposed and Xtreme: Inside the Orbiting HQ, coming soon to a download store near you!