Monday, August 27, 2007

Shameless Plug

Hey All Readers!

I just wanted to make a plug for MasonWiki.  I, along with many other hardworking Broadside Onliners, have been working to create a nifty wiki for the school and fill it with as much content as we can stand.  Well, now the wiki is "launching" and our small band needs to expand to pretty much the whole student population.  If we can get enough people to join up with this thing, we'll have a great resource for freshmen, students, parents, and the rest of the interested world.  Plus, we will effectively replace the Mason site and it's crazy web structure.

The wiki format is a cool AJAX format that helps reduce pageloads and increase awesomeness.  Please jump on the wagon with this one!  All you need to do is go to the wiki, look around some of the site (via the column on the right), and then register and make a new page about whatever it is that you think needs to be added.  Also, check out the wiki frequently, as others will be adding newer, cool stuff all the time.

Any questions?...Drop me a line via email or comment.  Also, I'm "loyaleagle" on the MasonWiki.  See you there!

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Google Throws Down the Open Network Gauntlet

There are some interesting movements afoot in airwaves. As the architecture of television transmission changes from analogue to digital, a significant chunk of the regulated radio spectrum (the 700MHz section, precisely) has opened up for new "development." To quickly establish who will have access to this spectrum and what rights those individuals will have, the FCC has opened up an auction. The initial intent for this over-the-air "bandwidth" is to create the next high-speed wireless network (similar to the system used by 3G phones). What no one expected was for Google's name to come up in the list of bidders. In fact, even more surprisingly, Google has pledged $4.6 billion to the auction, with a few stipulations.

Until now, only the big telecom companies (ala Verizon and AT&T) have been able or interested in securing a part of the wireless spectrum. Because of this, the usage of said spectrum has been rather stifled by big companies that want complete control of their networks. Consumers can only use the phones that their carriers say are ok, can rarely modify the software on those phones, and generally have to operate in a kind of walled garden that is controlled by their carrier. Google's stipulations directly confront these "locked-up" rules with a set of "open" rules, elaborated in their public letter to the FCC:
  • Open applications: Consumers should be able to download
    and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize
    a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they
  • Open services: Third parties (resellers) should be
    able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale
    basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: Third parties (like internet service
    providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible
    point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network.
In a sense, these rules would allow any users to have any standardized phone they wanted, running any available software or applications, and get to choose who they would like to get their service from. Aside from the euphoria you are probably experiencing, you may be wondering, "Why does Google care about this at all?" The answer is simple. Google has made its empire from advertisements that accompany its spectacular search page. If phones and software on those phones are opened up, Google will have found yet another market to infiltrate with those same ads. Also, they believe that, given a choice, users will use Google as much on their phones as they would on their PCs.

In response to Google's ground shaking demand for openness, the FCC has decided to accept two of Google's four rules. They are supporting the requirements for applications and devices (so unlocked phones are a distinct possibility), but they denied the request for services and networks to be sold off by a wholesaler. Of course, if Google wins the bid, it can do all the wholesaling it wants, so some would say that the decision certainly favors Google. Even still, Ars Technica reports that the bid is not until January 16, 2008, so Google and its competitors have some time to decide their long term strategies for this new set of wavelengths.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Google...Selling Music...Universal DRM-Free?...I'm So Confused!

Well, following my article on EMI's DRM-Free music, it looks like Universal Music Group (one of, if not THE largest of the music labels) has decided to follow suit.  Unlike EMI, though, Universal is planning to team up with everybody...except Apple's iTunes Music Store.  iTunes is by far the leader in digital music purchases, but some recent bad blood between the two companies may have led to iTunes exclusion from the deal.

In any event, the interesting twist in this story (aside from the importance of more DRM-Free music on the net) is Google's involvment in all of this.  People don't usually associate Google with music services, but in conjunction with a new startup called "gBox," Universal will start offering their music in a searchable format that somehow also incorperates Google's Adsense.  I'm not completely sure how this is going to work, whether gBox will be a specific client for music downloading, or whether is will simply host the conjunction of Google's ads and Universal's services.  In any event, this music will sell for 99 cents a song (iTunes DRM-Free tracks from EMI are 30 cents more expensive) and a number of services outside of gBox will also offer these tracks.

I assume that because of the extra capital provided by the Adsense, both Google and Universal have had an easier time partnering and the cost of the music has been reduced to boot.  Now, details like the bit rate of the tracks and the exact delivery method have yet to be released, but the service will go life on August 21st of this year and will tenatively end on January 31st, 2008.  This end date seems to be a failsafe in case the pilot program fails and certainly if they make a lot of money, one might expect the companies to extend the life of the program.

All in all, this is a step forward for digital download music, even if it is a little bit of a thorn in Apple's side.  It seems unlikely that Apple will be excluded from this deal indefinitely, but Universal may be wanting to play the field a bit before it unlocks its content to the download giant.

Universal to sell DRM-free music with Google’s help

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sorry, you can't ever win in checkers...EVER!

A little over a week ago, a sad announcement came out.  Checkers is officially dead.

Ok, maybe that's being a little over-dramatic, but it's kind of true.  A computer system named Chinook that was finished in Canada in April can never lose at checkers.  The reason for this is that it can look at the state of the game and from that point, predict all possible outcomes based on all possible moves (there are 500 billion billion possible moves, according to  From there it can create a kind of tree graph that shows the clearest way for it to win.  Meanwhile, its human counterparts can, at best, look a few moves ahead and will probably miss a number of possibilities along the way.  It is impossible to win, but one can create a draw if they are good.

I decided to try out this mind-destroying mechanical masterpiece for my own.  I went on down to Chinook's homepage and tried to play against it.  At first it simply told me how much of an advantage it had over me.  Then, as my terribleness at playing checkers became obvious, it just came out and suggested we play again (as it had already determined I had no possibility of winning).  That was depressing.

That being said, it does raise an interesting point about how things we consider "games," really aren't games when your mind is as large as a computer's.  It would be like being shown a rack of tubes into which one can place balls and, if the tube is chosen correctly, the player moves on to the next round with less tubes.  If one could see all of the possible moves and their outcomes, it would be like playing the tube game with only correct tubes open to have balls dropped into them.  You can't lose!  Is it really a game at that point?

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The content of this page is completely the creation and opinion of James Rogers. He is affiliated with Connect Mason and formerly Broadside Online but the relationship only governs republication, not content.

Further, in the interest of full disclosure, this author holds minor financial investments in Apple, Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices.