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Two years ago, we were among those who noted how odd it was to see the MPAA in court arguing in favor of fair use, since the MPAA tends to argue against fair use quite frequently. The legal geniuses at the MPAA felt hurt by our post and some of the other news coverage on the issue, and put out a blog post claiming that the MPAA and its members actually love fair use. According to that post, the MPAA's members "rely on the fair use doctrine every day" and the idea that it "opposes" fair use is "simply false, a notion that doesn't survive even a casual encounter with the facts." Now, as you may have heard, Wikileaks has put the leaked Sony emails online for everyone to search through for themselves. I imagine that there will be a variety of new stories coming out of this trove of information, now that it's widely available, rather than limited to the small group who got the initial email dumps. In digging through the emails, one interesting one popped up. It's Chris Dodd revealing the MPAA's true view on "fair use" in an email to Michael Froman, the US Trade Rep in charge of negotiating agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP). You see, about a year ago, Froman gave a speech where he made a very brief mention of the importance of fair use, and how, for the first time, the USTR would be including fair use in agreements. Here's what Froman said: And, for the first time in any trade agreement, we are asking our trading partners to secure robust balance in their copyright systems – an unprecedented move that draws directly on U.S. copyright exceptions and limitations, including fair use for important purposes such as scholarship, criticism, news commentary, teaching, and research. Nothing major. Nothing controversial. In fact, as we've pointed out, the actual text in the various leaks of the TPP show that while it is true that the USTR has, for the first time, mentioned concepts related to fair use, it has only done so in a manner that would limit how fair use could be implemented. And that brings us to Dodd's email to Froman, in which he reveals that, contrary to the MPAA's "we love fair use" claim in its public blog post, the MPAA is actually quite fearful of fair use and the idea that it might spread outside of the US to other countries: Dear Ambassador Froman: I am writing to you today regarding your Wednesday remarks at the Center for American Progress. I am concerned about your suggestion that previous free trade agreements’ copyright provisions were unbalanced and that USTR has addressed this lack of balance by including “fair use” in the TPP. Quite to the contrary, the recently ratified US-Korea FTA was supported by a broad cross-section of US industry, from tech and the internet community to the copyright community, and furthermore has been held up as a model agreement. As I know you are aware, the inclusion of “fair use” in free trade agreements is extremely controversial and divisive. The creative community has been, and remains, a strong and consistent supporter of free trade, but the potential export of fair use via these agreements raises serious concerns within the community I represent. Over the last 24 hours, I have received calls from my member companies questioning what they perceive as a significant shift in US trade policy and, as a consequence, the value of the TPP to their industry. It may be that people are reacting to the subsequent press releases by private groups following your remarks. I am certain these concerns have been elevated by indications from the US government that the ISP liability provisions in the TPP are going to be weakened. Nonetheless, this issue is of enough significance that I felt I must reach out to you directly prior to your departure for Singapore to register our deep concerns. I am hopeful that I can report back to my members that that US trade policy has not changed, that USTR is committed to securing strong copyright provisions in the TPP. But, there is no question Wednesday’s speech is reverberating in the content community, and I would be remiss if I failed to raise these concerns to you personally. I would be very grateful if you would respond to these concerns at your earliest convenience. I realize you will be traveling, but this is a sense of urgency surrounding our concerns. Regards, Christopher J. Dodd Motion Picture Association of America So, the MPAA loves fair use... but the very idea that the USTR might include fair use in a trade agreement (as it had announced years earlier, and which it is doing in very limited -- and limiting -- ways) is "controversial and divisive"? All the way to the point that the MPAA is concerned about whether it can still support the effort? That does not sound like an organization that really does support fair use at all. In fact, it sounds like an organization that actively does "oppose" fair use, contrary to the claims in its blog post. Funny how the MPAA's public statements appear to completely disagree with what it says directly to politicians, huh?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's actually been a pretty long time since we last wrote about electronic voting machines and how insecure they are. Back in the 2005 to 2010 time frame, it was a regular topic of discussion around here, but there really hasn't been that much new information on that front in a while. However, earlier this week, Virginia decided to decertify a bunch of electronic voting machines after noting that the security on them was abysmal. As Jeremy Epstein notes in a detailed blog post about this issue: If an election was held using the AVS WinVote, and it wasn’t hacked, it was only because no one tried. The vulnerabilities were so severe, and so trivial to exploit, that anyone with even a modicum of training could have succeeded. They didn’t need to be in the polling place – within a few hundred feet (e.g., in the parking lot) is easy, and within a half mile with a rudimentary antenna built using a Pringles can. Further, there are no logs or other records that would indicate if such a thing ever happened, so if an election was hacked any time in the past, we will never know. It's that bad. The headline grabbing line that many news sites have run with is the unchangeable WEP encryption key used on the machines was "abcde." Meaning it was crazy easy for people to hack into (even if you didn't know the password originally, it would not be difficult to figure that out just by monitoring the system). But that's just the start. Other massive problems, explained by Epstein: The system hasn’t been patched since 2004 (which we knew). What we didn’t know is that the system is running a whole bunch of open ports with active services. The report specifically notes that ports 135/tcp, 139/tcp, 445/tcp, 3389/tcp, 6000/tcp and 16001/tcp are all running unpatched services. (Layman’s explanation: the voting machines aren’t just voting machines, they’re also servers happy to give you whatever files you ask for, and various other things, if only you ask. Think of them as an extra disk drive on the network, that just happens to hold all of the votes.) (Obdisclosure: In retrospect, I *probably* could have figured this out a few years ago when I had supervised access to a WinVote with a shell prompt, but I didn’t think of checking.) The system has a weak set of controls – it’s easy to get to a DOS prompt (which we knew). What we didn’t know is that the administrator password seems to be hardwired to “admin”. The database is a very obsolete version of Microsoft Access, and uses a very weak encryption key (which I knew a couple years ago, but didn’t want to disclose – the key is “shoup”, as also disclosed in the VITA report). What we didn’t know is that there are no controls on changing the database – if you copy the database to a separate machine, which is easy to do given the file services described above, edit the votes, and put it back, it’s happy as can be, and there are no controls to detect that the tampering occurred. The USB ports and other physical connections are only marginally physically protected from tampering. What we didn’t know is that there’s no protections once you plug something into one of these ports. What this means is that someone with even a few minutes unsupervised with one of the machines could doubtless replace the software, modify results, etc. This is by far the hardest of the attacks that VITA identified, so it’s almost irrelevant given how severe the other problems are. And, as Epstein notes, the Virginia Information Technology Agency figured all of this out on its own -- in other words, it wasn't given the source code for these machines. That means, pretty much anyone probably could have figured out the same things. Epstein makes it clear just how easy this process is: Take your laptop to a polling place, and sit outside in the parking lot. Use a free sniffer to capture the traffic, and use that to figure out the WEP password (which VITA did for us). Connect to the voting machine over WiFi. If asked for a password, the administrator password is “admin” (VITA provided that). Download the Microsoft Access database using Windows Explorer. Use a free tool to extract the hardwired key (“shoup”), which VITA also did for us. Use Microsoft Access to add, delete, or change any of the votes in the database. Upload the modified copy of the Microsoft Access database back to the voting machine. Wait for the election results to be published. As he points out, the only bits that might take some sort of technical expertise is extracting the passwords, but that's not that hard, and the kind of thing that lots of script kiddies have figured out how to do with free online tools for ages. Epstein points out that the Diebold machines that everyone mocked a decade ago were "100 times more secure" than these WinVote machines. Because there's an election coming up, apparently some election officials were against decertifying these machines: Richard Herrington, secretary of the Fairfax City Electoral Board, said he was unconvinced that WINVote machines were risky enough to warrant decertification. “No matter how much time, money and effort we could put into a device or a system to make it as secure as possible, there is always the possibility that someone else would put in the time, money and effort to exploit that system,” he said. Richard Herrington is both right and wrong. Yes, it's true that almost any system will have security vulnerabilities, but he's ridiculously, laughably wrong, in suggesting that these machines are likely secure enough. These machines don't require a sophisticated hacker (especially now that the VITA revealed all the necessary passwords). Basically anyone can change the votes however they want based on the information that has been revealed. For years, whenever we'd point to concerns and problems with e-voting machines, people would argue that it was just conspiracy theories and that these machines were mostly "secure enough." Yet, time and time again, we've discovered that the machines weren't even the tiniest bit secure -- and this is just the most egregious example so far.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Aside from the extraordinary information that he revealed about massive yet unsuspected surveillance programs, Edward Snowden has produced several other collateral benefits through his actions in 2013. For example, recently we learned that the DEA's phone tracking program was cancelled as a direct result of the revelations and the ensuing uproar. Other leakers have started to come forward, apparently inspired by his actions. And as the press has pored over Snowden's actions, it has become clear that support for government whistleblowers is woefully inadequate -- indeed, that they are regarded by the Obama administration pretty much as traitors. More generally, the debate around Snowden has highlighted the important part that whistleblowers play in sustaining the rule of law and defending democracy. Now a group of whistleblowers has written a letter calling on the United Nations to recognize that role (pdf), and to improve protections within the organization (via Intellectual Property Watch): As our experience shows, retaliation against whistleblowers affects the entire UN system and goes largely unchecked at all levels, including in the Executive suites. Some UN whistleblowers have been fired or demoted; others have been subject to more subtle forms of abuse like non-renewal of contracts or sudden transfer to duty stations on the other side of the globe; many face plain, simple harassment and intimidation. The problems they have to deal with are very similar to those encountered by Snowden when he sought to use official channels to raise his concerns: UN whistleblowers are forced to go through lengthy, and often expensive, internal appeal processes in which the burden of proof, as a practical matter, rests on the whistleblower to demonstrate retaliation (the usual standard in national systems requires the employer to justify their actions were not retaliatory). As a result, they often end up taking the same route that he did: Put simply, the UN system of justice fails whistleblowers, and most of us have been forced to leave the UN to save our livelihoods, our health and our reputations. The letter's signatories go on to call for the UN to review whistleblower protection at the organization, and they make concrete suggestions on improving the lot of those revealing abuses, including recognizing that: Whistleblower rights are human rights, which must be promoted and protected within the UN, as well as in affiliated specialized agencies and international organisations with immunity from national laws. And extending whistleblower protections to: UN peacekeepers, police officers, contractors, victims and any other person who provides information about misconduct that could undermine the organisation’s mission. The key to receiving protection should be the content of the information disclosed, not the identity of the person disclosing it. Like much of the letter, that last point is applicable generally. It underlines the fact that a completely new framework for whistleblowers is required at every level, both nationally and internationally. The letter to the UN is part of an important move towards making that happen, in what could prove to be a key aspect of Snowden's long-term legacy. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Publicity rights have managed to intersect with the video game world more frequently recently. Typically, what appear to be loose general characterizations and/or homages within games have, for a variety of reasons, ruffled the feathers of the celebrity elite. One needs only look back at the disputes raised by Lindsay Lohan over a character in the Grand Theft Auto series which she, wrongly, declared to be based solely upon her. The question I always have in these cases is one of motive. Are these celebrities unhappy about the portrayal they think they see in a character, is there some competing interest, or is it all just a mindless money-grab? In the latest case we'll cover, I'm at a loss if this isn't a money grab. The whole thing centers on the latest iteration of Mortal Kombat and one character's likeness, perhaps, to a mixed marshal arts fighter name Felice Herrig, who thinks the Cassie Cage character is based off of her likeness. Herrig, who fights on this weekend’s UFC on FOX 15 card, was first made aware of Cassie Cage a few months ago. Back then, she found the resemblance to be a bit odd, but she didn’t have a whole lot to go on. In recent days, however, more footage and promo materials have surfaced, and Herrig doesn’t like what she sees. Her complaints, posted to her social media account, center on the Cassie Cage character notably chewing bubblegum and taking selfies. If you go hunting for side-by-side comparisons, they can be somewhat striking. Except we need to keep a couple of things in mind here. Both women, one real and one fictional, portray combat fighters and there are only so many ways those folks are going to be portrayed. Flexing with clasped fists is a common posed shot in this world. As for chewing bubble gum and taking selfies, both of those are so common that entire industries are built around them, so that is about as unique as having blonde hair. Is there an homage here? I don't know, maybe. If there is, it's a subtle one, and built off a real-life person who isn't exactly a household name outside of the MMA scene. But what's the point of getting upset over a maybe-possibly-kinda-sorta nod in your direction? I mean, it is an option to be flattered or to use it to promote yourself, whether the whole thing is an homage or not. What's to be upset about? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Paying for college has never exactly been easy, but it's been getting increasingly difficult over time. On top of that, it's getting more difficult to get into some of the more selective schools. CA Gov. Jerry Brown remarked that "normal" people can't get accepted to Berkeley anymore (hold the jokes on how normal the students at Berkeley have ever been, okay?). Proposals for free community college tuition (with fine print attached) might make higher education more accessible and certain colleges more socio-economically diverse, but what's going on with the costs of tuition? All the Ivy League universities and a bunch of prestigious schools like MIT and Stanford offer free tuition for students from families earning less than specified income levels. However, if the goal of these kinds of programs is really to achieve higher socio-economic diversity of student populations, perhaps efforts to level the playing field should start far earlier than college. [url] The putative reason for the increasing college tuition is related to slashed government funding, but the conventional wisdom seems to ignore the growth of the student population, as well as the administrative expansion which has been roughly ten times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions. Some folks point to the seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university executives as a scapegoat, but the situation seems to be much more complex. Is there a more efficient way to deliver higher education and reliably recognize student achievements? [url] Government subsidized higher education isn't going to lower the costs of educating -- it'll just obscure the relationship between that cost and tuition. Reducing administration costs for colleges and universities seems like the place to start, but it's not clear how the cuts there would begin... or why they would be initiated by the very people who are in charge of the administration budgets. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For the past few months there have been rumors every few weeks that Congress was finally going to push out a "fast track" or "trade promotion authority" bill. As we've explained, these bills are Congress giving up their Constitutional right to regulate international trade, and handing the power over the USTR, a part of the executive branch. While some supporters of this argue that it actually gives Congress more power, by laying out the conditions of a trade deal it will approve, that's ridiculous. That might be true if fast track authority were granted prior to a deal being done, but with the TPP and TTIP pretty far along, it's clearly not true. Either way, despite massive opposition from the President's own party, an agreement has been reached between Senator Hatch and Senator Wyden and a trade promotion bill has been released. Back in February, we presented a simple litmus test concerning whether or not any such effort would actually be reasonable on intellectual property issues: would the text of the bill concerning intellectual property be any different than the last fast track authority bill from 2002 (or an attempt to update it in 2014). Both of those bills had nearly verbatim text. And... as we feared, so does this new bill. Given just how much the internet has changed since 2002, it is simply inconceivable to suggest that the same intellectual property rules that made sense then would continue to make sense now. In other words, despite the involvement of Senator Wyden, it appears that little has been done here to make it clear to the USTR that bad IP rules in the TPP or TTIP agreement are unacceptable. That's a disappointment. Here are the key provisions on intellectual property. Note that they are basically all about enforcement (i.e., protectionism) rather than the free flow of information (which is what you'd expect a trade deal to be about). providing strong protection for new and emerging technologies and new methods of transmitting and distributing products embodying intellectual property, including in a manner that facilitates legitimate digital trade; preventing or eliminating discrimination with respect to matters affecting the availability, acquisition, scope, maintenance, use, and enforcement of intellectual property rights; ensuring that standards of protection and enforcement keep pace with technological developments, and in particular ensuring that rightholders have the legal and technological means to control the use of their works through the Internet and other global communication media, and to prevent the unauthorized use of their works; providing strong enforcement of intellectual property rights, including through accessible, expeditious, and effective civil, administrative, and criminal enforcement mechanisms; and preventing or eliminating government involvement in the violation of intellectual property rights, including cyber theft and piracy; These are basically word for word the same from 2002. In other words, despite over a decade of seeing how the USTR has used trade deals to browbeat other countries into bad intellectual property laws, this new trade promotion authority is saying "go ahead and continue doing just that, no matter what harm it may do to the internet and all of the economic growth it creates." Unlike some who are totally against any trade deals, I believe there are ways in which increasing actual free trade can be helpful. I had held out hope that the new trade promotion agreement would be more reasonable than what we'd seen in the past. But just looking at the intellectual property section alone, and the fact that it has remained unchanged since the 2002 version -- despite over a decade of seeing how bad IP policy can hurt internet innovation and economic growth -- suggests that this TPA agreement continues the mistakes of the past, rather than fixes them. That's unfortunate. And so, now comes a very, very weird fight in Congress. With nearly all Democrats opposed to this bill even including the surprise change in position by Senator Chuck Schumer, we'll have a situation where Congressional Republicans try and convince their colleagues to give President Obama more power, by removing the Constitutional authority from Congress, while Congressional Democrats push back against giving their own President that power. It's a really weird fight in oh so many ways.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's a story in Business Insider that's been getting a lot of attention thanks to the click-baity headline of: The founder of a $50 million startup just sold his company — and he didn't make a dime by reporter Alyson Shontell. Almost everything about the headline is misleading. The company, Get Satisfaction, was once valued at $50 million, at its peak back in 2011. But from what I've heard, the final sale, to Sprinklr, that went down recently was for $8 million (and it's possible that not all of it was cash, making the valuation even more questionable). So, the whole $50 million bit is meaningless, because that's not what the company was worth. And, considering the company had raised at least $21 million (and possibly more), the fact that it eventually sold for less than half the money raised means that it shouldn't even be remotely surprising that the company's founder, who had been pushed out years earlier, got nothing out of the deal. This is how it works. The early shareholders/founders were diluted and pushed out, the company basically tanked and sold off in a firesale. It's no surprise that the early players got basically nothing -- it's how things are done. What struck me as more interesting about this, however, was the fact that the founder who kicked off the story, Lane Becker, was actually willing to come out and say the truth: that it was a firesale designed to make people look good, rather than actually make anyone any real money. This is Silicon Valley's stupid secret that really should be discussed more openly. Lots of startups fail. It happens all the time. And Silicon Valley prides itself on supposedly being a lot more accepting of failure. You hear it all the time. But the reality is that we often try to hide failures behind fake success stories. High profile startups rarely just disappear -- they find someone to buy them for next to nothing so they can pretend to have successfully exited. The truth is, many of those companies were out of money and the "acquisition" was nothing more than an attempt to "create good optics" and pretend to the outside world that there was a successful conclusion to the startup. If Silicon Valley were truly accepting of failure, it would be much more willing to openly discuss its failures. It happens, but it's rare. The one I remember most clearly is Chris "moot" Poole from about a year ago writing about the failure of his startup Canvas/DrawQuest: I’m disappointed that I couldn’t produce a better outcome for those who supported me the most—my investors and employees. Few in business will know the pain of what it means to fail as a venture-backed CEO. Not only do you fail your employees, your customers, and yourself, but you also fail your investors—partners who helped you bring your idea to life. In my case, I am extremely lucky and grateful to be partners with people who are simply the best. What separates the best investors is not how they help you when you’re a rocketship, but when your ship is on fire and you’re venting atmosphere. In this case, our investors have demonstrated what sets them apart from the rest—they’ve supported me throughout the ups and downs, and especially the downs. There's a lot more to that post and it's well worth the read. It talks about the kind of things that lots of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs talk about privately, but almost never publicly. Yes, Silicon Valley is relatively accepting of failure. Compared to other industries and other areas, Silicon Valley is much more open to second (and third and fourth) chances for those who have failed -- but we're terrible about exploring why things fail and the impact of those failures. Being a part of a failing startup is no fun at all -- but the end of the story tends to be pretty typical: if it's not high profile, it just disappears. If it is high profile, it does what Get Satisfaction did here and finds a firesale option where people can pretend it was a success, thereby hiding the reality and keeping the important lessons from being learned more widely. The interesting thing about Becker's statement was not -- as Business Insider assumed -- that a founder didn't get to cash out on a firesale of his former company. It was that Becker wasn't willing to play the usual game and pretend a failure was a success. Rather he was direct about how the company had flopped and how. And that's something that we need more of, rather than silly stories that try to make it look like something "unfair" or "wrong" happened. What happened is totally normal in Silicon Valley. It happens every week around here, and we should be more open to talking about companies that fail and why they fail -- not to revel in the schadenfreude, but to learn the lessons from those who ran into trouble along the way.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Public WiFi hotspots can be unreliable, and you can never be too sure of how secure they are. You can solve those issues by taking your internet with you in a portable hotspot. The MiFi 2 Unlocked Global Hotspot is available today for 50% off in the Techdirt Deals store. This MiFi is unlocked (you'll need a SIM card from your carrier), can connect up to 10 devices (laptops, cell phones, and tablets) and can keep you online for up to 16 hours with its large battery life. It's compatible with most networks (LTE on AT&T and T-mobile only, but works with 3G on others) and operating systems, allows you to control which devices can connect and uses a VPN pass-through and WiFi protected set up to help secure your connection. The touchscreen display helps you track your battery life, signal strength and data usage so you can stay under those infuriating data caps. You can also place up to 32GB on a microSD card and provide instant access to the files from the connected devices. This little device can keep you connected and secure in over 150 countries. Note:We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you might have read, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been losing some major clients lately, including Google, T-Mobile and Microsoft. Those companies have been quietly distancing themselves from ALEC, after critics have illustrated its ties to legislative assaults on climate change science and meaningful pollution standards. Before Google announced it was leaving the group last fall, chairman Eric Schmidt went so far as to accuse the legislative grist mill of "literally lying" about its role in climate change denial. In a response letter to Google, ALEC proclaimed Google's departure was "based on misinformation from climate activists who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial." With T-Mobile, AOL, and Facebook quietly following in Google's footsteps (but not publicizing the reason for their departures), ALEC has apparently decided that its best course of action is to threaten lawsuits against those claiming ALEC denies climate change. ALEC has sent cease and desist letters (pdf) to a number of critics like Common Cause, the letters directing groups to the ALEC website where the organization insists it's not a opposed to climate change -- it's simply a "market environmentalist" dedicated to the "betterment of human health and well-being." Apparently climate change isn't the only sensitive topic for ALEC as the outfit tries to stem the flow of client departures. The group has also been sending cease and desist letters to companies like wirelesss MVNO Credo Mobile, which in recent months has been sending its subscribers missives hammering ALEC for its role in fighting community broadband. The small company markets itself as having an activist, pro-consumer edge, and has scored exceptionally well on the EFF's privacy report card. Credo's been busy pointing out to its subscribers how ALEC's model legislation, clearly visible on ALEC's website, has been used as the framework for roughly twenty state-level protectionist broadband bills nationwide. As we've frequently discussed, these bills are the worst sort of protectionist dreck, shoveled into the legislative bloodstream by the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink to protect its duopoly power from communities desperate for something better. Credo frames ALEC's participation in these efforts this way in a recent notice to subscribers:"The American Legislative Exchange Council—a shadowy corporate front group that works to enact discriminatory voter ID laws, weaken gun safety laws and eliminate environmental regulations—is now pressuring state legislatures around the country to ban cities from offering broadband Internet access. ALEC is pushing its anti-municipal broadband agenda through model legislation it has developed, which one municipal broadband advocate described as “the kind of language one would expect to see if the goal is to protect politically powerful cable and telephone company monopolies.” Many perennial funders and members of ALEC, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner [Cable], stand to gain financially from these state laws because they eliminate the possibility of competition from city-run broadband services."In its cease and desist letter to Credo, ALEC first proclaims it's a respected think tank, not a lobbying apparatus. It also insists it doesn't "block" municipal broadband, the group simply advocates encumbering towns and cities with "certain steps," should they be interested in building their own broadband:"We demand that you cease making inaccurate statements regarding ALEC, and immediately remove all false or misleading material from the Working Assets and Credo Action or related websites and action pages within five business days," the letter, dated March 5, reads. "Should you not do so, and/or continue to publish any defamatory statements, we will consider any and all necessary legal action to protect ALEC." ALEC contends that it does not oppose city broadband but only advocates that certain "steps" be required before a municipality can provide telecom services. Additionally, ALEC takes issue with Credo labeling it as an organization that lobbies state legislatures at all, arguing that it is merely a "think-tank for state-based public policy issues and potential solutions."How exactly can you claim you don't oppose municipal broadband when you've played a starring role in opposing municipal broadband? Because many of the bills ALEC helps pass don't technically "block" municipal broadband. They are however usually saddled with language by ISP lawyers that effectively does the same thing. For example most of the bills prohibit communities from getting into the broadband business if their market is "served" by an existing provider. They then go on to define "served" to include satellite and cellular connections, while using extremely generous versions of zip code coverage analysis. Similarly ALEC doesn't lobby to pass these bills directly, their incumbent ISPs client do that. Regardless, Credo Mobile doesn't appear to be too worried about ALEC's threat, sending the organization a response letter (pdf) illustrating that not only does ALEC's own website document its opposition to municipal broadband, but so have numerous news outlets:"Not only does ALEC attempt to influence legislative outcomes, it clearly succeeds in doing so. As recounted in a 2011 Bloomberg News article, ALEC's model legislation on municipal broadband was the principal reason why cable companies were able to block Lafayette, Louisiana from offering high speed Internet access to its citizens (editor's note: Lafayette was ultimately able to offer gigabit connections via LUS Fiber, but only after a protracted legal fight against regional incumbents Cox and BellSouth (now AT&T)). "Under these circumstances, the language used in the statements you challenge -- "working to make sure it never happens" and "pressuring state legislatures" -- is well within the bounds of political discourse in making the point that ALEC's model legislation and positions have the intent and effect of encouraging enactment of state legislation effectively banning cities from offering broadband Internet access."It's not entirely clear what ALEC hopes to accomplish here, as its role in both climate change and municipal broadband is pretty clearly established by documentable history, news reports, and the legislative process itself. It's kind of like the town drunk, after months of being videotaped punching clowns in the face, becoming foul-mouthed and indignant at the mere mention of the odd number of clown black eyes around town. In fact the behavior is only bringing additional critical attention to ALEC's longstanding role as an organization that's useful to corporations looking to quietly shovel bad legislation through financially compromised state legislatures with the bare minimum of fuss or actual public debate.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you (lucky you!) don't pay attention to the latest craze among the internet media, you may have missed the mid-to-late-March hype cycle around two livestreaming apps that are available via Twitter. The initial darling was Meerkat, which became this year's annual darling-for-a-week at SXSW. Soon after, it was eclipsed by Periscope, a startup that Twitter bought, just about the same time it pulled Meerkat's ability to push notifications out to users. Both offer the same basic idea: enabling Twitter users to easily livestream video to their followers. Of course, livestreaming is not a new concept. It's been around for ages, and things like Ustream and JustinTV are well-known. Even BitTorrent has tried to get into the livestreaming game. Not surprisingly, livestreaming technology has been particularly useful for newsworthy situations -- and have been used extensively in violent clashes around the globe or at protests like in Ferguson, Missouri last summer. But, of course, Hollywood absolutely hates such things. For years, they've argued that Ustream and JustinTV were destroying their businesses because some people would turn on a television and set up their phone or computer to livestream whatever they were seeing. So it should come as little shock that right after the media hype cycle around Periscope and Meerkat, a whole series of silly articles started appearing about the copyright consequences of livestreaming. The Guardian warned that these new livestreaming apps "could cost unwary brands dear." Billboard warned that these two new apps created a "legal minefield" because a song playing in the background might (*gasp*) infringe on someone's copyrights. The Atlantic warned that these apps were enabling "a new kind of internet pirate." And, CBS really went the distance with a fearmongering headline about how Periscope and Meerkat "threatened" the "multi-billion dollar sports broadcast copyrights," even though they do no such thing (and, in fact, that article speaks to no actual sports officials, whereas when Major League baseball was asked, it noted that it sees no real threat). And, rather than admit that (1) livestreaming has been around for ages and hasn't really been a serious drag on revenue, and (2) it's not a particularly good user experience for watching broadcast content anyway, various folks in Hollywood lost their minds about these two new services. The main culprit? HBO. After there were a few scattered reports of various Game of Thrones fans using Periscope to broadcast the latest episode of the popular show, HBO decided that it's all Twitter's fault, and who cares about DMCA safe harbors, something must be done, and Twitter has to do it: "We are aware of Periscope and have sent takedown notices," an HBO spokeswoman said in a statement. "In general, we feel developers should have tools which proactively prevent mass copyright infringement from occurring on their apps and not be solely reliant upon notifications." There are two issues there. First are the takedowns -- which is a part of the DMCA. But the second part is asking for Twitter to go Beyond the DMCA and to start proactively reviewing and policing the content that is streaming over Periscope. This is a bad idea for a whole variety of reasons that both Twitter and HBO should already understand. First, such efforts inevitably lead to takedowns that block important, legitimate, non-infringing speech. Considering how Periscope and Meerkat are designed for livestreaming events right now, blocking those could lead to important content never seeing the light of day at all. The chilling effects could be massive. On top of that, there is little to no evidence that unauthorized streams of Game of Thrones are doing any harm whatsoever. In fact, Game of Thrones is often the prime example of how unauthorized streams have helped certain content get more attention and more long-term committed fans. Both a director on the show and Time Warner's CEO (who owns HBO) have admitted as much. So why the collective freakout about these new apps? It seems, as is the tradition among some in Hollywood, any new technology that might possibly be used for some amount of infringement must be loudly condemned and shamed. Despite the fact that this policy never works, and tends to just lead to widespread ridicule, it is the only gameplan that the old guard in Hollywood have. They could embrace these things. HBO execs -- especially with the launch of HBO's new streaming services -- could be highlighting how much better the official streaming experience is than the crappy Periscope/Meerkat experience. But, what fun is that? That, apparently, takes work.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I love chess. As the original multi-player turn-based strategy game, chess serves as the backbone for many a modern era game, for which it has my respect. Despite this love I have for the game, I happen to be quite horrible at it, but that only makes me all the more reverent of those that master its wily machinations. Kasparov is a name I know solely because he was a grand champion, one of those faces of chess that spurred on so much intrigue as people wondered just how he was able to dominate his opponents so completely. Gaioz Nigalidze was one of those folks, too, having attained the title of grandmaster, but now he isn't. He might actually be as good as advertised, but we can't trust that he is any longer because he was found to be using a iPhone to cheat his way through a match. The plot begins and ends, as all good plots do, in the toilet. On Saturday, Nigalidze, the 25-year-old reigning Georgian champion, was competing in the 17th annual Dubai Open Chess Tournament when his opponent spotted something strange. “Nigalidze would promptly reply to my moves and then literally run to the toilet,” Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian said. “I noticed that he would always visit the same toilet partition, which was strange, since two other partitions weren’t occupied.” Yes, the strange part was which toilet Nigalidze used, not the fact that his bladder decided to punctuate each move with a potty trip. As it turns out, Nigalidze had hidden an iPhone in one of the restrooms, wrapped in toilet paper because there ain't no stealth in chess, and had been running the game he was playing through an application that analyzed and suggested moves. In other words, he totally h4x0red that chess tournament, ya'll! It turns out that being the Barry Bonds of chess isn't great for one's career and Nigalidze's past and future have both been placed in jeapordy. Nigalidze was expelled from the tournament, which is still ongoing and features more than 70 grandmasters from 43 countries competing for a first-place prize of $12,000. The Georgian’s career is now under a microscope. His two national titles are under suspicion. And under recently tightened rules against cheating, he could be banned for up to 15 years. This has reportedly sent the chess world into some kind of insane tailspin over concerns that, now that someone has proved that cheating in tournaments with a small device such as a phone is doable, who knows how many other of our revered grandmasters are big, steaming, salty cheat-burgers? The ancient game is now understood to be relatively easy to master with something as common as a smartphone, which means chess tournaments are about to get way more TSA-like with security, I guess. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Hey, budding adults! Welcome to college! Now, kindly shut up for the next few years. Cal Poly Pomona’s campus policies impose a web of restrictions before students can distribute literature on campus: They must check in with the Office of Student Life, allow the school to copy their IDs, and wear badges signed by an administrator. Even then, would-be speakers are relegated to the so-called “free speech zone.” Badges can only be issued from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, although the Office of Student Life pledges to “work with” any student who wishes to engage in expressive activity on evenings or weekends. Additionally, students must register in advance for outdoor events, and the Office of Student Life must approve all flyers and posters. That's what the First Amendment has been reduced to at Cal Poly Pomona: asking permission, wearing "free speech" badges and a standing-room-only patch of ground. These restrictions have prompted a lawsuit from student Nicolas Tomas, who alleges campus police prevented him from handing out pro-vegan fliers on a campus sidewalk and directed him to jump through the college's many speech-curbing hoops before exercising his First Amendment rights. Despite being a public college -- which should encourage it to keep its free speech meddling to a minimum -- Cal Poly Pomona continues to issue policy-related "Presidential Orders" that strip away students' First Amendment rights. Because some of these orders haven't been made public, they're open to abuse, as Tomas points out in his lawsuit. Together, the policies establish an unconstitutional “free speech zone” and impose unconstitutional prior restraints on expressive activities that limit free expression at Cal Poly Pomona. The policies are contradictory, confusing, and do not provide adequate notice to students regarding Cal Poly Pomona’s policies on free expression. For example, the Student Life webpage on the Cal Poly Pomona website provides links to the Interim Freedom of Expression Policy (dated 2002) and the 2008 Presidential Order policies, but not the 2014 Presidential Order. The inconsistent policies allow administrators to pick and choose provisions that they are going to enforce, allowing them unlimited discretion to promote or silence speech based on its content or the identity of the speaker. At some point between March 5th and today's date, CPP personnel updated the site to include the missing 2014 Presidential Order. No new link is provided, nor has the title of the existing link ["New Presidential Order: Use of University Buildings, Facilities, or Grounds (PDF)"] been altered. Only the destination document has. Instead, whoever was in charge of this simply swapped out the 2008 Order for the 2014 Order without any indication this change had taken place. Crafty. Cal Poly Pomona vows to respect your free speech rights, provided you inform the administration 10 days in advance, are granted permission to speak and are willing to wear a speech permit while remaining in the properly-designated area. That's just not how free speech works. Tomas is hoping his lawsuit will result in the school's policies being found unconstitutional. Even if Tomas can't get the constitutionality declaration and permanent injunction he's requesting (along with damages and costs), maybe his efforts will push the school to reconsider its policies. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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With it now relatively clear that nobody will tolerate outright throttling or blocking of services, we've noted repeatedly how ISPs have turned their gaze toward other, more subtle ways of abusing their gatekeeper mono/duopolies on the net neutrality front. The most notable being interconnection -- or intentionally degrading service to extract new tolls from content companies, and zero rated apps -- or letting some content bypass the cap if a content or service company is willing to pay ISPs a premium. Both battlefields obviously benefit the ISPs and content companies with the deepest pockets. One of the major reasons Facebook and Google were so quiet during the latest round of the net neutrality fight is because they were happy with the original 2010 rules, given they didn't cover wireless whatsoever. But they were also happy about the loopholes regarding zero rated apps, which play a starring role in the companies' future global ambitions. Zero rating is particularly important to the companies overseas, where both offer free, walled-garden internet access where their services get preferential treatment from wireless carriers (see Facebook Zero or Google Free Zone). With the neutrality debate taking root globally, both Facebook and Google are taking increased criticism for "supporting net neutrality in the US" (though, as we've noted, they really haven't) while pushing for zero-rated models that trample neutrality overseas. In India for example, regulators are now being bombarded with comments from a public that's realizing just how badly these models tilt the entire massive playing field toward the gaping maws of industry giants, whether that's the regional wireless company, Facebook, or both: "Reliance’s deal with Facebook, called Internet.org, effectively gives you one social network at no cost, while forcing you to pay for others like LinkedIn. It might seem like the company being generous, but it only works because Facebook and Reliance were able to strike a deal. A smaller social networking firm that doesn’t have Facebook’s resources or influence would find it harder to build an audience, because they’re competing with a free service....Pahwa pointed out that this strategy could result in dominance of major players in the market and crowding out of others who can’t afford to “strike deals or pay up for getting access to the fast lane". Indian Internet users aren't alone in realizing the problems inherent in zero rated apps. A growing chorus of Internet content companies have started backing away from zero rated efforts like Airtel Zero or Facebook's Internet.org deal with Reliance. The Times Group, India Today, NDTV, IBNLive, NewsHunt, and BBC have all pulled out of the initiatives citing the bad precedent set in cherry picking which content gets a free ride. Flight, hotel and travel price tracking website Cleartrip also dropped out, posting to their blog that such exclusionary practices are against the company's DNA: "...the recent debate around #NetNeutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast. What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA." While the neutrality debate in India may be fresher, the public and industry there are already more in tune to the threat posed by zero rated apps than many U.S. customers and companies are. And the U.S. and India are obviously seeing more conversation on this issue than, say, markets in Africa. There, in many markets, users are happy to get access no matter what it looks like, and Google and Facebook are aggressively jockeying for pole position over billions in new advertising eyeballs. These services in particular are a two-sided coin. On the one side, both companies are correct in noting that the services deliver limited web access (and all the great things that entails) to those who currently don't have service. On the other hand, as Susan Crawford highlighted a few years ago, what these users are getting is a notable bastardization of the internet: "For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That’s not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business," she says. "That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life." If you're building internet access from the ground up dominated by a few ISPs and a few content gatekeepers, it certainly makes you wonder what kind of strange monstrosities these models evolve into. When the internet starts from a place of openness, companies have a steeper uphill climb. Here in the States, both AT&T and T-Mobile have struggled to convince the public that these models heavily benefit consumers. AT&T has been setting a horrible precedent by allowing deep pocketed companies to bypass usage caps, pitching the concept as "1-800" or "free shipping" for data. T-Mobile's had better luck convincing users that exempting only the biggest music services is a consumer boon for the ages (it's not, because it puts non-profits, independents and smaller companies in an immediate competitive hole). While zero rated apps are now banned by net neutrality rules in a growing list of countries (Chile, Slovenia, The Netherlands and Canada), the FCC's new rules appear to take a hands off approach to zero rating. That's a decision you can be sure Facebook and Google -- both still frequently praised in the media as champions of net neutrality -- had notable input on.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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By now, you may have heard the story about how two TSA agents at Denver International Airport were fired recently after it was revealed that they had worked out a scam by which one agent was able to grope and fondle the genitals of male massengers he found attractive. The plan involved him signalling to a colleague who was working the scanning computer. That agent would tell the computer that the individual being scanned was female, which apparently would set off an "anomaly" alert for the groin area, allowing the male TSA agent to conduct a "pat down" of that area. Leaving aside the fact that these computers even have "male" and "female" settings and it can determine an "anomaly in the genital area" if they don't match -- this kind of thing was exactly what many insisted was going to happen when the TSA put in place these advanced screening procedures. And if you think that this is the only case of it happening, well, then, you probably think the TSA doesn't rifle through and steal stuff from your luggage as well. Now here's the thing: this only came out because the TSA agent blabbed about it to a colleague, who then reported it, leading to an investigation. Many people find it odd that the two TSA agents (who are still unnamed) merely lost their jobs, rather than got arrested for this activity. Chris Bray, over at TSA News (found via Amy Alkon -- herself no stranger to intrusive TSA searches), went and grabbed the actual Denver police report on the incident, revealing that it appears that the TSA set up its "investigation" in a manner to almost guarantee no criminal charges and that the names of the TSA agents would remain secret. Specifically, the TSA was first told about this scheme on November 18th of 2014. First, it took nearly two months for the TSA to do anything about it, and it did not contact the police during this time. Instead, on Feburary 9th, TSA investigator Chris Higgins observed the screening area and saw the signal/button push/grope of the genitals. Higgins made no attempt to speak with or identify the victim of this assault (this is important). Instead, he just spoke with the two TSA agents who were terminated at some later time (exact date not clearly indicated). The Denver police were not told about any of this until over a month later, on March 19th, 2015, at which point they noted that without a named "victim" there wasn't much they could do. On that same day, the inspector, Higgins, told the Denver police that he had also spoken with a deputy district attorney who had told him that without a victim, it was unlikely they could prosecute a case. It's unclear when that conversation took place, but it appears that the TSA had plenty of time to fire the TSA agents and make it basically impossible for the police to file a case before then telling the police what happened. As Bray notes, this all seems rather suspicious, as if the TSA's "investigation" was much more about covering up the TSA's misdeeds, rather than holding the agents responsible: So in November of 2014, the TSA was warned that two of its officers were currently, actively conspiring to commit sexual assault. But the TSA did not notify the police about that anonymous tip. The Denver Police Department is the agency that regularly polices Denver International Airport; the DIA Bureau is listed on this directory. If the TSA had notified the police about the tip in November, the police could have been watching the checkpoint to observe the groping incident that was instead witnessed by a TSA employee. But the police didn’t know about an allegation of active, current, ongoing sexual assault, because the TSA didn’t tell them. And so an act of sexual assault occurred right in front of a TSA investigator — and the investigator let the victim walk away without approaching him and identifying him. Then, in March 2015, the TSA informed the police of the allegation, and of the evidence of the event that a TSA investigator had personally witnessed more than a month before. But the TSA didn’t notify the police until both employees had been fired — in other words, until both participants in a scheme to commit sexual assault had been removed from the place in which they allegedly committed it. It’s as if someone called the fire department to report a pile of cold ashes. The TSA waited to call the police until the passengers were long gone, the TSA officers alleged to have committed the crime were long gone, and the crime witnessed by a TSA investigator was more than a month old. Isn't that convenient? Bray asked the TSA why it didn't contact the police earlier, and received a boiler plate response about how "intolerable" the actions were, but no substantive response to Bray's actual questions. Yes, the groping scheme is a scandal, but it seems like a much bigger scandal is how the TSA handled the case -- first allowing the criminal activities to go on for two months without notifying police, and then making sure that no one could be actually charged with a crime.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the most interesting realizations in recent years is that done right, massive, open collaborations are not just an efficient way of working, but they scale in a way that can take us to entirely new levels. A good example -- and perhaps the first project to exploit this fact -- is Linux, which grew from a small bunch of hackers working together across the internet on some bedroom code into a global, distributed project that now dominates every sector of computing bar one (the desktop -- so far.) The open source methodology has inspired all kinds of cognate projects in different fields, including that of citizen science, which pools the efforts of large numbers of people working with simple tools to produce important results that can be published in academic journals. The best-known example of this is Galaxy Zoo, which asks members of the public to help classify some of the millions of images taken as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, many of them unseen by any human previously. Adrian Bowyer, the man behind RepRap, an open-source project to construct a 3D printer that is capable of self-replicating -- that is, printing all of its parts -- has written a fascinating blog post about another application of citizen science. It involves hundreds of people taking a picture of the same patch of night-sky with their smartphones, and then uploading the digital image to the website of a BBC program, which coordinated the whole project. As Bowyer explains: Each individual picture was just a black rectangle -- not enough starlight had gone through the lens to make an image that could be seen. But some had gone through, and registered in the camera's pixels as a slightly less-dark patch of black. On its own, then, each image showed so little that it was impossible to make out anything. But this is what happens when you combine hundreds of them: A computer first matched them up by making sure that the centres of the prominent stars were all in the same place, and then added up the slightly-less-black bits to make the picture. Of course the pixels in all the cameras were not in the same place relative to the stars, which means that each camera pixel could be split into thousands of final-image pixels, which gives the fabulous resolution The resulting composite image (available as a 40 Mbyte tif file) looks like it was taken using a high-power telescope, and is a wonderful demonstration of how combining a large number of apparently insignificant contributions can create something unexpectedly impressive. Here's just part of the image: Typically, Bowyer wants to take this striking example of open, distributed collaboration even further: The human race is a species on which the stars never set. So let's make the Human Telescope. Set up a website to which anyone anywhere in the world can upload any sky images that they have taken with any digital camera, phone or telescope. The images will have a timestamp and a GPS location, and will be continually stacked by a computer in the background to give an exquisitely detailed evolving picture of the whole vault of the heavens. The world would become a great spherical insect eye looking at every star, galaxy, planet and nebula all the time. We would be automatically finding comets, supernovae and near-Earth asteroids. We would never miss an astronomical trick. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been pretty vocal about supporting the encryption of more and more web traffic. It's important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is your privacy and security. A few months back, we were excited to see the Chrome security team suggest that it should start marking unencrypted web pages as non-secure. It appears that Mozilla is now joining in on the fun, proposing deprecating unencrypted HTTP web pages to encourage more web developers to go full on in support for encrypted HTTPS: In order to encourage web developers to move from HTTP to HTTPS, I would like to propose establishing a deprecation plan for HTTP without security. Broadly speaking, this plan would entail limiting new features to secure contexts, followed by gradually removing legacy features from insecure contexts. Having an overall program for HTTP deprecation makes a clear statement to the web community that the time for plaintext is over -- it tells the world that the new web uses HTTPS, so if you want to use new things, you need to provide security. It's a clever setup. Basically, if you want to take advantage of new features on the web, you'll have to encrypt. Meanwhile, it appears that Netflix has separately announced that it is moving forward with plans to encrypt all of its infrastructure with HTTPS to better protect your privacy as well: with our existing server infrastructure and the up to 50% capacity hit we had observed, driven by our traffic mix. At that time, we were uncertain of the gains we could achieve with software and hardware optimization and of the timescale for those. I'm pleased to report we have made good progress on that and we presented our FreeBSD work at the Asia BSD conference. We now believe we can deploy HTTPS at a cost that, whilst significant, is well justified by the privacy returns for our users. So, as we mention today in our investor letter, we intend to roll out HTTPS support over the coming year - for both our site and the content itself - starting with desktop browser tests at scale this quarter. In short, yes, deploying HTTPS at that scale is expensive, but the benefit to users is tremendous and worth it. It's still going to take a while, but we're getting closer to reaching that tipping point where an unencrypted web is a historical anomaly and that's a very good thing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Lots of cool materials have been inspired by biological materials -- like velcro and surfaces with lotus leaf-like structures. Nature has had a headstart of a few hundred million years to create some useful materials, so it's a great (and open) source of inspiration for new human-made materials that might further improve upon the stuff we already have. Here are just a few more examples of biomimicry that could be everywhere in the near future. There's a type of beetle (Tmesisternus isabellae) that has a color-changing ability based on the interaction of humidity with nanostructures on its forewings. A color-changing pigment inspired by this beetle can be made with colloidal photonic crystals, and these materials resist color fading or bleaching better than traditional dyes and pigments -- and could be used in anti-counterfeiting inks. [url] The Venus' flower basket sea sponge grows very strong cable-like hairs, called spicules, to anchor these creatures to the sea floor. These spicules are made of nested glass fibers and demonstrate the advantage of these microstructural details for optimizing material strength. [url] A new lightweight bulletproof vest design could look like fish scales, covering a body with a protective layer that allows the wearer to still move freely. Scale armor isn't new, but 3D printing the scales and coming up with optimal protective structures could make a better kind of personal armor. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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On Monday, the FCC's net neutrality rules officially went into the Federal Register, which was also known as the starters' gun for rushing to the courthouse to sue the FCC over those rules. Trade group USTelecom got there first with its filing, while a bunch of other trade groups, representing big cable companies (NCTAA), small cable companies (ACA) and big wireless companies (CTIA -- ignoring the claims of its members Sprint and T-Mobile) were right behind them. Not to be left out, AT&T has also formally sued the FCC using the same basic complaint ("arbitrary and capricious, yo!") There had been some idle speculation that the big broadband companies might sit this one out directly, and rather let their lobbying trade groups handle the fun, but AT&T apparently couldn't take the risk of letting those other groups fight this fight, just in case they chickened out. Of course, there is some irony in the fact that AT&T was apparently among those who were most pissed off at Verizon for suing over the previous rules, since that's what led to these new rules. Either way, expect the various lawsuits to get consolidated before too long. And then expect years of fighting before we get a final ruling and lots of whining and complaining in between. And, just think, instead of spending all that money on lawyers and press releases about future plans to deliver faster broadband, AT&T could actually be investing in building a better network for its subscribers. But what fun is that? According to Wall Street's view... it's no fun at all. They'd much rather AT&T fight against rules that say they have to treat consumers right, rather than actually working hard to treat consumers right.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The DOJ and the FBI aren't seeing eye-to-eye -- and apparently haven't for years. The FBI has been stiff-arming the DOJ's Inspector General over the past several months, preventing him from doing his job of providing oversight for the DOJ's many law enforcement agencies. The FBI appears to have gone rogue. Maybe it isn't the FBI deciding it's above accountability. Maybe it's because it doesn't view the DOJ as a useful entity... or even a trustworthy ally -- even as the FBI is technically a part of the DOJ. At its heart, the FBI is a law enforcement agency. It pursues bad guys and turns them over to be locked away. It firmly believes in the inherent "rightness" of its mission, even when its investigative activities have partially devolved into terrorism-related shots on unguarded goals. Emails obtained by the New York Times provide some insight to the friction between the FBI and DOJ over the handling of the Blackwater case. In 2007, Blackwater -- a private company hired by the State Department to provide security in Iraq -- opened fire on civilians in Baghdad, injuring 20 and killing 17. The FBI's investigation concluded that 14 of the 17 Iraqis were killed "without cause." The FBI wanted to stack charges in order to assure the contractors felt the full consequences of their actions. The DOJ, on the other hand, wasn't so sure. The F.B.I. had wanted to charge the American contractors with the type of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons charges that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives for the shooting, which left more than a dozen Iraqis dead and many others wounded in September 2007. But at the last minute, the Justice Department balked. In particular, senior officials were uncomfortable with bringing two machine-gun charges, each of which carried mandatory 30-year prison sentences. The lead agent, John Patarini, felt that dropping this mandatory chunk of prison time would allow those involved to walk away from killing 17 civilians with five-to-seven year sentences. This outcome may have been more aligned with the DOJ's sense of justice (after all, the contractors were required to carry weapons by the State Department) but it didn't mesh with the FBI's more law enforcement-oriented definition of justice. So, Patarini decided to play politics. Mr. Patarini was incensed. “I would rather not present for a vote now and wait until the new administration takes office than to get an indictment that is an insult to the individual victims, the Iraqi people as a whole, and the American people who expect their Justice Department to act better than this,” he replied. Playing politics only made sense. The charge itself is a political by-product -- a relic from the Drug War's decade-long obsession with crack. This charge was legislated into existence solely to stack charges against drug dealers to turn low-level possession charges into decades-long stints in federal prisons. The DOJ's reluctance to use a law it had wielded so willingly against drug dealers and gang members in the past against federal contractors who gunned down dozens of Iraqis is troubling. The FBI's desire to see Blackwater's employees face lengthy prison sentences is also troubling, considering it's usually all too happy to do the same thing to people accused of far less heinous behavior. The regime shift the FBI felt would keep the weapons charges alive also changed the DOJ's stance. Nothing in the obtained emails states explicitly why the DOJ reconsidered its position, but its recent statements on the Blackwater case are closely aligned with Special Agent Patarini's 2008 desire to see the contractors sentenced to decades in prison. Echoing the emails from nearly seven years ago, the Justice Department said the sentences would “hold the defendants accountable for their callous, wanton and deadly conduct, and deter others wielding the awesome power over life or death from perpetrating similar atrocities in the future. The only winners here are those who know how to game the political system. The FBI knew it needed a friendlier DOJ, which required a friendlier White House. But the FBI doesn't play politics to the extent the DOJ does. No matter how inflamed its sense of injustice, there was little chance the DOJ would fight the previous administration to pursue gun charges against the employees of a major political donor. Seven years later, the DOJ finally feels comfortable using a bad law to put four killers in jail for an extra-long time. There's no "right" here. There's only the sickening interplay of political expedience. The FBI fought the DOJ -- not for the greater good -- but for much smaller, much more temporary ends. The FBI wants to put bad guys away. The DOJ's position isn't as clear-cut. It's quick to throw the book at certain defendants, but it's just as likely to investigate allegations of police misconduct and civil rights violations. Although both are ostensibly aimed at the same goal -- justice -- the DOJ is the weaker of the two, more prone to cutting the accused some slack and far more willing to criticize the FBI's colleagues and allies: the local law enforcement agencies it often partners with. Because of this, the FBI views the DOJ as unworthy of its respect -- just as likely to sell it out as back it up. The DOJ may be the FBI's parent agency, but it's clear the FBI views it as ineffective and impotent. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I won't pretend to know every in and out of the Dead or Alive series. That's partially because I gave up fighting games once I hit junior high, and partially because my gaming habits tend to cleave to particular franchises generally and DoA wasn't amongst those I patronized. But I gather the series has been mostly about offering up characters, and setting them to beat the hell out of one another for fun and amusement. I can see where there might be fun in that. What I can't see is why the creator of such a game series would want to make the kinds of moral arguments against modders that DoA producer Yosuke Hayashi made in conjunction with Koei Tecmo going all DMCA crazy on mods that removed the wardrobes of the fairer characters of DoA 5: Last Round. "We have to deal with mod issues from an IP holder perspective," Koei Tecmo producer Yosuke Hayashi said in an interview with trade publication MCV. "We would like to ask PC users to play our game in good moral and manner. Otherwise, we won’t be able to release a title for PC again." Now, is the dedication some modders show to making sure that female characters are disrobed a level 20 on the creepy scale? Sure, I think that's fair. But, from a business perspective, why is Tecmo interested in going the DMCA route on the modding community? Whatever you think of the mods themselves, it's difficult to mount a logical argument for going to war with the modding community, which is typically made up of either a game's fan-base or talented modders serving some portion of the fan-base. Either way, mods are strictly for the interested, meaning they can only make a product more desirable, not less. What good comes from the company trying to hide these mods using intellectual property law? As for the moral argument, please let me just type "haha" here and imagine I kept repeating those two letters infinitely, because, seriously, c'mon. The DoA series only strayed form its chief thematic vehicle of human beings beating the ever-loving shit out of one another in order to tantalize dumb teenage boys by creating spinoff series in which the female DoA characters play volleyball in laughably small bikinis, spinoffs in which the female characters are photographed in laughably small bikinis, and spinoffs in which the female characters can play almost-strip-poker with the player. Let me see if I can draw you a picture of morality using DoA imagery. The gravity-defying boob physics represent the necessity of a firm moral stance...or something... The point is that there seems to be little sense in any of this from Tecmo's perspective. Moral arguments are for those with moral authority, and good gaming business is to let modders have-at-it, as it were. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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With more and more of our lives moving online, it's important to protect your privacy and VPNs offer a decent layer of protection. Today's deal gets you a 4 year subscription license to ibVPN for only $59 -- 84% off of the original price of $381. Compatible with all of your devices across multiple platforms, ibVPN offers access to 75+ VPN servers in 39 countries. They use the Blowfish algorithm with 256 bit keys to encode your data before transmitting it to the Internet and they do not keep any traffic logs. The license lasts for 4 years and includes all updates. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As was widely expected yesterday, the EU has officially come out with its "Statement of Objections" to Google practices that are at the heart of its antitrust complaint. They are almost entirely focused on the fact that Google promotes its own shopping search product at the expense of competitors. From the announcement: Google systematically positions and prominently displays its comparison shopping service in its general search results pages, irrespective of its merits. This conduct started in 2008.Google does not apply to its own comparison shopping service the system of penalties, which it applies to other comparison shopping services on the basis of defined parameters, and which can lead to the lowering of the rank in which they appear in Google's general search results pages.Froogle, Google's first comparison shopping service, did not benefit from any favourable treatment, and performed poorly.As a result of Google's systematic favouring of its subsequent comparison shopping services "Google Product Search" and "Google Shopping", both experienced higher rates of growth, to the detriment of rival comparison shopping services.Google's conduct has a negative impact on consumers and innovation. It means that users do not necessarily see the most relevant comparison shopping results in response to their queries, and that incentives to innovate from rivals are lowered as they know that however good their product, they will not benefit from the same prominence as Google's product. This somewhat echoes the FTC's analysis of Google's playing with shopping search -- but the FTC also noted that the end results actually seemed to be good for consumers (something the EU appears to be less concerned with). Here was the FTC's conclusion on the same issue: Indeed, the evidence paints a complex portrait of a company working toward an overall goal of maintaining its market share by providing the best user experience, while simultaneously engaging in tactics that resulted in harm to many vertical competitors, and likely helped to entrench Google's monopoly power over search and search advertising. The determination that Google's conduct is anticompetitive, and deserving of condemnation, would require an extensive balancing of these factors, a task that courts have been unwilling- in similar circumstances - to perform under Section 2. Thus, although it is a close question, Staff does not recommend that the Commission move forward on this cause of action. In short, it is clear that Google experimented with ways to improve its own shopping search performance, but it's hard to see how some of the EU's complaints make that much sense. What business is required to promote it competitors? Either way, Google is now in the somewhat awkward position of pointing out that its own vertical search products both are good enough to deserve the treatment Google gave them, yet bad enough that no one actually uses them. Thus it has put out a somewhat hilarious blog post that talks about how little people actually use Google's vertical search products while also highlighting how many competitors there are. Here, for example, is the chart it shows for shopping sites in Germany: It's pretty clear what point Google is trying to make there, though it seems likely that the EU Commission will quickly argue that this chart is actually unrelated to the point that it is making -- that Google may be somehow "unfairly" leveraging its dominant position in general search, to push its vertical shopping search on users. The real question, is whether or not that's harming end users in any way. That's the part that seems tough to support. There do appear to be many other options for searching. And, personally, as someone who regularly uses Google (and other search engines) for a variety of searching needs, I can say that I never use it for product/shopping search, whether or not it promotes it in its search results, because I automatically default to other specialized sites for those kinds of searches. I'm at a loss as to how Google promoting its own shopping search does any harm to me in those situations. It's just another competitor (and to me, not a very good one). As we noted a few months ago, based on a tool that Yelp and TripAdvisor put together, there are arguments to be made that Google could do a better job with how it handles vertical search results, using its search algorithm to pull in results from others -- but it's difficult to see why anyone should want government bureaucrats determining how to build search engine results.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Good news has arrived for fliers who'd like to know exactly what the hell is going on when they're forbidden to board an airplane. The government will no longer refuse to confirm or deny that persons who are prevented from boarding commercial aircraft have been placed on the “No Fly List,” and such persons will have new opportunities to challenge the denial of boarding, the Department of Justice announced yesterday in a court filing. Thanks to several lawsuits, the DHS is no longer able to Glomar its way out of responding to travelers who suspect they've been blacklisted from flying. This filing addresses Mohamed v. Holder, but builds on revised redress procedures promised in the wake previous lawsuits. Under the previous redress procedures, individuals who had submitted inquiries to DHS TRIP generally received a letter responding to their inquiry that neither confirmed nor denied their No Fly status. Under the newly revised procedures, a U.S. person who purchases a ticket, is denied boarding at the airport, subsequently applies for redress through DHS TRIP about the denial of boarding, and is on the No Fly List after a redress review, will now receive a letter providing his or her status on the No Fly List and the option to receive and/or submit additional information. It's a huge step forward from just being told less-than-nothing by the agency's misnamed "Traveler Redress Inquiry Program." The first step has the DHS performing its own "redress review" -- something that appears to have no time limit for responses. And that's the beginning of the process. Members of the public will finally receive better and more detailed responses, but they will asked to perform several rounds of hoop-jumping, with the first couple of steps seemingly redundant. If such an individual opts to receive and/or submit further information after receiving this initial response, DHS TRIP will provide a second, more detailed response. This second letter will identify the specific criterion under which the individual has been placed on the No Fly List and will include an unclassified summary of information supporting the individual’s No Fly List status, to the extent feasible, consistent with the national security and law enforcement interests at stake. Other than "because we're a bureaucracy," there doesn't seem to be any reason full details could not be provided in a single letter. But that's the government for you: if it's not killing trees and utilizing its underused postal service, it's not being productive. Why do in one step what can be done in several (also: in triplicate, if possible), etc. Even with these redress improvements, some travelers will still receive answers containing little to no information or guidance. The amount and type of information provided will vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on the facts and circumstances. In some circumstances, an unclassified summary may not be able to be provided when the national security and law enforcement interests at stake are taken into account. On the upside, the DHS will actually allow this to be a bit more adversarial. Travelers will be able to submit responses to the DHS's initial No Fly List determination and submit information that might prompt a reconsideration of their inclusion on this list. The final decision is still the government's but at least it's open to basing its decision on more than its own security-first worldview and limited, supposedly inculpatory data. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Prior to the 9//11 attacks, you only had to worry about airport baggage handlers beating the hell out of your luggage or stealing your valuables. Thanks to the post-attack panic, there's a new layer of ineptitude and deceit your luggage is subjected to on its way to its destination (which may not be your destination). Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow (or rather, his luggage) was recently subjected to the brutish charms of the Transportation Security Administration. [T]he TSA still routinely and unaccountably destroys luggage equipped with "TSA-safe" locks, just because they can. Last week, TSA inspectors at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport pried the locks off of my unlocked, "TSA-safe" suitcase before taping it shut again and loading it onto my London-bound flight. Here's what Doctorow's luggage looked like after the "TSA-safe" locking mechanism outmaneuvered the TSA agent in charge of crowbar-wielding and packaging tape application. This appears to be the luggage Doctorow "submitted" to the TSA (although Doctorow's is possibly an earlier iteration), which then handled it with all the grace and skill of two male supermodels trying to retrieve files from a computer. The TSA should have had no trouble unlocking the suitcase (using keys, rather than physically attacking it). Rimowa's site states that its luggage features "TSA combination locks." Bypassing it with a master key was the option the TSA was supposed to use. Instead, it just forced it open, taped it back together and handed it back to Doctorow without even a shrug of bureaucratic regret. It did, however, respond to his legitimate complaint. If you can call it a response. First, it loads up on disclaimers. (Doctorow's interjections are bracketed.) Thank you for contacting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Contact Center regarding damaged or missing checked baggage locks. TSA is required by law to screen all property that goes onboard commercial passenger airlines, including checked baggage. To ensure the security of the traveling public, it is sometimes necessary for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to inspect checked baggage by hand. Locked checked baggage [[MY BAG WAS UNLOCKED]] may cause delays due to the need for TSOs to open locked baggage by using alternative measures, including force. Please be advised that TSA is not liable for any damage to locks or bags that are required to be opened by force for security purposes. [[HOW CONVENIENT – WHY NOT?]] Yes. The agency takes no responsibility for breaking something that was a.) unlocked and b.) even if it wasn't, had passkeys it could have used. It inexplicably mentions this unused option while explaining why it manhandled Doctorow's luggage like the world's most inept burglar. In cooperation with private industry, TSA implemented a system under which TSOs are able to identify, unlock, and then relock certain locks using passkey sets available to TSA screeners [[AND ANYONE WITH HALF A BRAIN AND A BIT OF GUMPTION]]. TSA-recognized locks can be opened and relocked by TSOs without force and with little delay. TSA cannot, [[WHY THIS COMMA?]] guarantee that such locks will never be damaged or lost while TSOs and airline employees handle checked baggage [[HOW CONVENIENT]]. On top of being unable to perform its job without destroying luggage, the TSA is apparently unaware that URLs can be copied and pasted, rather than carelessly typed into a response email for maximum ineffectiveness. To learn more about damaged locks, please visit www.tsa.gov\node\1428. Just try to do what the TSA didn't and paste that not-a-URL-at-all into an omnibox. (Well, it will be automatically converted into a real URL, but that's only because web browsers are smarter than TSA Customer Service agents.) Doctorow says this indicates some sort of DOS mindset, which is its only level of scary. So, to recap: the TSA can break your stuff, despite having the tools to do otherwise and despite having a number of luggage manufacturers specifically making passkey-compliant suitcases to prevent this sort of thing from happening and despite the suitcase being UNLOCKED THE WHOLE TIME. And the traveler's path of recourse is a mistyped URL surrounded by "not our fault" boilerplate. The TSA will never have to pay for broken luggage. Because terrorism. I miss the good old days when this sort of behavior was only displayed by baggage handlers searching for valuables/setting distance records in amateur luggage-tossing competitions. At least then you could find someone to hold accountable for the damage sustained. The TSA, however, is above even the most minimal level of accountability. If its employees are outsmarted by a "TSA-safe" lock, it's your fault for not ensuring your checked luggage was already open and dumping its contents all over the conveyor belts by the time it reached the TSA's elite group of suitcase-battering counterterrorists. This entire situation (especially the TSA's "response") cleary shows that Doctorow is the guilty party here. If he truly loved America, he'd have prepared for this eventuality… or at least just taken back the taped-together remains of his $1000 suitcase and shed a tear of gratitude for all the hard work the TSA did to ensure his flight didn't get blown up/hijacked. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In Wired Magazine's 4th issue ever, back in 1993, it sent famed author William Gibson to Singapore, leading him to write an amazing article entitled "Disneyland with the Death Penalty," talking about the strange contradictions of the city state. It starts out with this sentence: "It's like an entire country run by Jeffrey Katzenberg," the producer had said, "under the motto 'Be happy or I'll kill you.'" Singapore is famous for both its clean, modern and high tech city... and the fact that it is more or less a dictatorship in which no criticism of the government is allowed. Talk to Singaporeans who have made it to the US for more than a little bit and you'll discover somewhat horrific stories about living in that country -- the kind of stuff that almost no one wants to talk about publicly. And in the last few weeks, the actions of the Singaporean government have highlighted just why so many Singaporeans are fearful of speaking out about what the place is really like. A 16-year-old precocious YouTuber named Amos Yee was arrested last month, basically for saying mean things about Lee Kwan Yew, the country's founder and long-time Prime Minister -- though many say that he was actually the country's dictator -- who died just a few weeks ago. Amos Yee's "controversial" video is still up as I write this. You can view it here, though I imagine someone may eventually try to take it down. The title is "Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead!" and in it Yee unloads his feelings on LKY and his infamous tendency in going after anyone who criticizes him, including the international press. Yee more or less tells the government to try to go after him... and it did. Watching the video, though, you see a typical teenager mouthing off to authority. That's what teenagers are supposed to be doing -- and Yee has quite a following as a precocious teenaged commenter on culture, both Singaporean and around the globe. The New Yorker has a profile of Amos, detailing some of his other videos that show him as a pretty typical teenager with opinions -- and the ability to create some fairly entertaining videos, like How to Speak Singlish (the modified English that some Singaporeans use) or his somewhat overwrought review of the movie Boyhood. As the New Yorker's Nathan Heller writes about Yee: Yee has all the hallmarks of a green and thriving mind; he is exactly the kind of person you would one day want reviewing your books, making your movies, maybe even running your country. Americans, who enjoy the benefits of free media, have a responsibility to take him more seriously than they take the government that has tried to quiet him for thinking freely in the public sphere. And those of us in the Fourth Estate have a duty to spread word of his ridiculous charges. If people like Amos Yee end up the custodians of our profession, the future of countries like Singapore can be brighter than their past. And yet, he's facing the potential of three years in prison and many thousands of dollars in fines, based on "Penal Code Section 298" which forbids "the uttering of words that might hurt the religious feelings of any person," as well as a recent anti-cyberbullying law that the country passed. We talk a lot on Techdirt about the importance of freedom of expression, and have called out other examples where people are pushing for laws against cyberbullying, with an expressed interest in stopping people from "hurting feelings" by unkind speech online. But when you have laws that make people criminals for merely expressing their opinions, you are shutting down the very way in which people learn and grow. Expressing opinions, having debates about them is a key part of growth, intelligence and innovation. Singapore wants to be seen as a modern and innovative country -- and yet at the same time it allows no dissent and no freedom of expression. It is a travesty. Even some in Singapore have been willing to point out that this is ridiculous, and only serves to show the world that Singapore's ego is fragile that it cannot stand up to a bit of criticism: What Amos Yee did was crude, rude and insensitive. But he is, at the end of the day, a provocative child playing at being hardcore. He’s certainly not the first – it was only the lack of access to YouTube that saved many of us from eternal embarrassment in our teenage years – and he won’t be the last by any stretch of the imagination. Is Singapore really so fragile, so easily threatened by offensive comment, that there was a need to charge a kid in court? What Amos and the two protesters did were against the law – but it’s also high time that we think about the laws we have, and whether the trade-offs made make sense in today’s context. Is the Singaporean situation really so precarious that freedom of speech and assembly needs to be curtailed to such an extent? Of course, given the way in which general deference to authority is demanded in Singapore, plenty of others have come out in favor of throwing Yee in jail. The New Yorker piece describes how ridiculous some of this has become: In the days after Yee’s arrest, a slew of local celebrities, including three Singaporean starlet types, were interviewed about his videos on national TV. In sequences depressing to watch, they all sided with the state. “If you say that, ‘Oh, people can say whatever they want, all the time,’ then what about those people who are listening?” Joshua Tan, a young actor, said. Well, what about them? The suggestion that citizens should withhold political criticism for fear of offense is preposterous—far more embarrassing to Singapore than any videos by Yee could be. We see this same attack on free speech in other places (often college campuses) today, as well as in certain areas of social media, in which people immediately leap to the idea that we need "new laws" to punish those who say things that people don't like, because "what about those people who are listening." Those people can be offended. And they can have their feelings hurt. Because that's how a free society is supposed to be -- where not everyone agrees with one another, and sometimes people say things you don't like. And that's good for the community. It's good for ideas and intelligence in that it allows for people to be challenged and to improve their arguments. Singapore, apparently, wants to put teenagers in jail for acting like teenagers. And thus, it appears that little has changed since that William Gibson article more than two decades ago -- and that's a real shame. In the age of the internet, Singapore has continued to try to position itself as a high tech mecca. But if it can't handle free expression, it's going to find that a difficult image to maintain.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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