Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2.23.12 SKY PILOT

This article was originally published in the 2.23.12 issue of Metroland.

Gotta love this. The Wall Street Journal reports this week that one of the fastest growing segments of the electronics industry is sales of.... television antennas! What’s going on is that as people are cutting the cord from their cable companies in favor of watching stuff on the internet, they’re rediscovering the joys (and no doubt the frustrations) of free TV signals in the air.

Cable networks have been racing to the bottom with soul-deadening reality shows and endless syndications of goofy cop shows. And as the quality of programming sinks, cable rates are going up. At the same time, the depth and variety of what’s online is exploding. Netflix just announced a deal with The Weinstein Company to stream their movies (like “The Artist”) even before pay TV. YouTube is launching channels dedicated to original programming. Hulu has all kinds of current TV shows available. And the gizmos available the turn your TV into a big computer screen are getting better and cheaper. And I keep hearing that Apple and Google have TV stuff up their sleeves that will drop soon.

So you ditch cable for the net and what are you missing? Local shows, maybe some sports, and the ability to see network shows as they debut. To the extent these things are important to you, you can get a lot of it by sticking rabbit ears on top of your set or an antenna on your roof (Be careful up there! You could break yer damn neck!). There’s at least 8 broadcast stations in Albany, and many more than that in larger urban areas.

Meantime, cable companies are starting to dramatically beef up on-demand offerings to keep customers off the net and on the grid. Comcast has just announced a new service of recent and high-quality on-demand TV shows and movies that will be available for basic cable customers for free or for cheap. Expect Time Warner to do the same, reversing its dismal practice of charging a la carte premiums even for 20 year old movies you don’t want to watch. It’s pretty remarkable that in the absurdly Byzantine worlds of telecommunications delivery and content licensing, we’re seeing the effects of real, honest-to-god competition in the form of increased consumer choice and value. Yay.

And speaking of what-won’t-they-think-of-next, the New York Times reports that Google will start shipping eyeglasses with little translucent displays in them by the end of the year. The glasses will be hooked to the web like your smartphone, the displays will be viewable by the wearer. Scrolling and pointing and clicking will be enabled by head-movements! And the glasses will have small cameras pointed outward that will allow the glasses to “monitor the world in real time” and even overlay what you’re looking at with an “augmented reality view.”

Holy freakin moley! The cost of these things will supposedly be in the range of a smartphone. The article didn’t mention whether the glasses would include a microphone or some other means of sending messages out. The article didn’t mention whether the glasses would include brain scanning capabilities that would allow the glasses to know what you are going to do before you do it. The article didn’t mention whether there would be a warning device to keep you from walking into walls or driving off a cliff whilst living in your own private translucent cyber-world.

On the downside, the article said the glasses would look sort of like Oakley Thumps. Oakley Thumps? RAY BAN WAYFARERS!!! C’mon Google, get with the program. Oakley Thumps... Sigh.

And I don’t think I believe this, but the article says multiple Google sources are saying there’s no business model being developed for these things yet. Google will just start selling the eyeglasses, and what people actually do with them will dictate the development of revenue streams. That is so counter to traditional corporate thinking it makes me want to juggle cats.

There’s no word on whether the glasses will be available with prescription lenses. Dudes, progressive trifocals, pul-eeze? Then again, if the glasses are so damn smart, shouldn’t they just know what’s in focus and what’s not and fix it? You know, like augment my reality view already, thank you so much?

I guess we should have seen this coming. Everything’s shrinking, your new phone is more powerful than your computer was 5 years ago, and of course that trend is gonna continue. Smart glasses today, smart contact lenses tomorrow.

The future’s so bright and Google’s got your shades.

Paul Rapp is an intellectual property lawyer and musician who likes long walks on the beach and pricy bourbon and hates everything else, except maybe those Google glasses. He can be reached on Facebook or at

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


This article originally appears in the 2.9.12 issue of Metroland.

The dust is still settling from the epic defeat of SOPA / PIPA last month. Most major media outlets are still mischaracterizing it as a battle of Big Tech versus Big Media, which is a convenient way around the fact that it was The People versus Big Media. A few commentators, though, are gushing about the role of social media and the internet in bringing this about, tying it in with this week’s Susan G. Komen debacle. There’s certainly something to that; internet petitions and click-and-send letters to legislative representatives have been around for years, but it seems as though participation in them has reached some sort of critical mass.

It’s been argued that the importance of these things are over-rated – how seriously are we supposed to take a gesture that involves a few seconds and a click of a mouse? That’s not a bad argument, especially when you add that anti-SOPA / PIPA activity, for one day, was facilitated by the Google and Wikipedia webpages. This is the digital equivalent of having a really-nice looking person showing up at every house and workplace in the country and telling everybody within earshot that Congress is about to kill the internet, and would you like to tell them not to? Yes? Done!

My response is that the internet has made lots of things easier. You can buy a book or CD in seconds by pointing and clicking. You can re-up your driver's license the same way. Why should participatory democracy be any different?

The meaning and import of what just happened will become clear soon. What happens the next time Congress or the White House does something idiotic with regard to the internet will be instructive. This will be especially true if Google and Wikipedia sit out the next round, which I think is likely. Will the “movement”, if that’s what it is, continue without training wheels?

And what’s coming? Lots. Big Media is regrouping for the next round. There are reports that Big Media is blaming the loss on an over-emphasis on closed-door politics at the expense of “educating the public.” There’s talk of pouring millions into school programs that will teach the young ones that “piracy is bad.” Good luck with that. This will have all of the effectiveness of the endless drivel my generation was force-fed about marijuana being a "gateway drug." We were smarter than that, and so are our kids. A new Pew study found that SOPA/PIPA was kid's most-followed news story of the last month. They live on the internet, and they don’t want a bunch of grey-haired grown-ups messing with it.

Nonetheless, if you’ve got kids in school, you might ask them from time to time if the topic has come up in school and if there were any hand-outs. You should know if your school is dishing industry propaganda, and if they are, a furious call to the principal would not be out of order. If you don't wanna do it, call me and I'll do it.

There’ll also be a more general public relations push. Take a look at RIAA toady Cary Sherman’s whiny and delusional op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times. What a victim! What bullshit! The Hollywood Reporter ran an article last week that implicitly assumed the Big Lie that SOPA / PIPA would have been fine laws, but they were falsely maligned by a massive Big Tech PR campaign. The article featured Hollywood public relations experts suggesting how the next wave of bills should be sold. One great idea was a big social media push under the slogan “Occupy Creativity.” I threw up in my mouth a little bit when I read this.

Also be on the alert for the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) treaties, that the US Trade Representative is trying to cram down the collective throats of much of the rest of the world. The "agreements" were “negotiated” in secrecy (and TPP is still being worked out) and appear to lock-in every signatory country's intellectual property laws to minimum standards, and include the kinds of vague language that could easily be used to justify legislation that's dangerous to speech, privacy and the internet. Like SOPA / PIPA.

ACTA has been a particularly hot issue in Europe over the last couple of weeks, with the Polish and Czech governments suspending any legislative activity about ACTA pending further study. A few dozen Bulgarian MP’s wore Guy Fawkes Anonymous masks during a legislative session in which ACTA was passed. Following weeks of significant public protests across Europe, February 11 has been designated as an international day of anti-ACTA action. This is gonna be good.

Over here, the Obama administration has taken the position that the US can ratify ACTA without any Congressional action, which is a huge stretch. Congress, informed and awakened by its SOPA / PIPA experience, might well challenge this.

But they might need another push. Speaking of that, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are still listed as sponsors of SOPA / PIPA. You might want to ask them why.

Paul Rapp is an intellectual property attorney who operates out of a secret lair deep in the forests of the Berkshire Mountains. He can be contact through his website