Articles by Cord Blomquist

Cord Blomquist spends most of his time pining for the singularity. To pass the time while waiting for this convergence, he serves as the New Media Manager at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Before landing this sweet gig, Cord hocked policy writing for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, toiled in the halls of Congress, and even worked in a crouton factory. In college, Cord spent his hours studying political philosophy and artificial intelligence, resulting in an unhealthy obsession with Lt. Commander Data. All of these activities will, of course, be viewed as laughable when he is ported from this crude meatspace into the nanobot cloud.

Wired’s Brian Chen writes today about the “damage” caused to Apple’s competitors and there own developers by products announced at yesterday’s WWDC keynote, making several claims that are bit dubious, the most suspect of which was this claim about Apple’s new cloud-focused trio:

Now, here’s why iCloud, iOS 5 and Lion pack such a deadly punch against so many companies: Together, they strengthen Apple’s lock-in strategy with vertical integration.

While I don’t doubt that Apple is indeed going to deal a very deadly punch to many competitors with their version of cloud computing for consumers, I think using the term “lock-in” is going to far.  True lock-in would mean driving consumers down a one-way street where their data can’t be moved to another platform (think Facebook prior to late last year) or driving up switching costs through cancellation fees ala the telecom industry.  Apple, on the other hand, is offering consumers a truly compelling user experience, not holding them hostage.

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Here’s a quick excerpt from an interesting press release sent out over PR Newswire last week—it sounds like someone is angling for a fat government contract:

EMC® announced the 2011 Data Hero Awards winners and finalists

First annual Data Hero Visionary award goes to Vivek Kundra, the first Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the United States of America

EMC just happens to be huge provider of cloud storage solutions, which they’re actively trying to sell to the public sector, and apparently already have.

Kundra, of course, was honored:

I’m truly honored to be recognized for this 2011 Data Hero visionary award. The modern economy is powered by data and technology. That’s why we strive to find innovative paths to lower government cost, engage citizens and institute radical transparency to bring them closer to their government and to help move us all forward, together.

I really like the way he worked in the bit on “radical transparency.”  It’s not as though if you say something enough, it magically changes reality, but that doesn’t stop the flow of awards.

Be on the lookout for an EMC press release involving a massive federal government cloud computing project.

Wired reports that a recent federal court decision would make it possible for a private-sector employee to be found in violation of the the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for simply violating their employer’s data policies, without any real “hacking” having occurred. This not only applies to data access, like grabbing data via a non-password-protected computer, but also to unauthorized use, such as emailing or copying data the employee might otherwise have permission to access.

On face, this doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable. Breaking and entering is a crime, but so is casually walking into a business or home and taking things that aren’t yours, so it seems like data theft, even without any “hacking,” should be a crime. For the law to be otherwise would create a “but he didn’t log out” defense for would-be data thieves.

But what about unauthorized use? Is there a physical property equivalent of this? Could I be criminally liable for using the corporate car to drag race my against my neighbor, or would I only be fired and potentially sued in civil court? Does this new interpretation CFAA simply expand the scope of this law into realms already covered, perhaps more appropriately, by statutes that specifically address trade secrets or other sensitive information in a broader way that doesn’t involve computing technology?

Judge Tena Campbell noted in the dissent that under the ruling, “any person who obtains information from any computer connected to the internet, in violation of her employer’s computer-use restrictions, is guilty of a federal crime.” So, perhaps this is a case of the court overreaching in an incredibly dramatic fashion.

I hope my lawyerly co-bloggers can weigh-in on this issue.

HT: Ryan Lynch

From the Politico’s “Politico 44” blog:

President Obama finally and quietly accepted his “transparency” award from the open government community this week — in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House on Monday.

The secret presentation happened almost two weeks after the White House inexplicably postponed the ceremony, which was expected to be open to the press pool.

The same post also contains a great quote from Steve Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, who said that the award was “aspirational,” much like Mr. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

When am I going to receive a Pulitzer to encourage me to write better blog posts?

Early in President Obama’s term it became clear that efforts to close the revolving door between industry and government weren’t serious or the very least weren’t working.  For a quick refresher on this, check out this ABC news story from August of 2009, which shows how Mr. Obama exempted several officials from rules he claimed would “close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely” and use their power and position “to promote their own interests over the interests of the American people whom they serve.”

The latest example of this rapidly turning revolving door is covered expertly by Nate Anderson at Ars Technica:

Last week, Washington, DC federal judge Beryl Howell ruled on three mass file-sharing lawsuits. Judges inTexasWest Virginia, and Illinois had all ruled recently that such lawsuits were defective in various ways, but Howell gave her cases the green light; attorneys could use the federal courts to sue thousands of people at once and then issue mass subpoenas to Internet providers. Yes, issues of “joinder” and “jurisdiction” would no doubt arise later, but the initial mass unmasking of alleged file-swappers was legitimate.

Howell isn’t the only judge to believe this, but her important ruling is especially interesting because of Howell’s previous work: lobbying for the recording industry during the time period when the RIAA was engaged in its own campaign of mass lawsuits against individuals.

The bolding above is my own and is meant to underscore an overarching problem in government today of which Judge Howell is just one example. In a government that is expected to regulate nearly every commercial activity imaginable, it should be no surprise that a prime recruiting ground for experts on those subjects are the very industries being regulated.

I love listening to podcasts, yet I’m increasingly disappointed with popular tech news podcasts like CNET’s Buzz Out Loud, which despite being staffed by tech journalists, consistently fail to grasp the basic economics of the Net.  The latest case of this arose on Episode 1360 of “BOL,” which took on the recent dispute between Comcast and Level3 over their peering agreement.

To provide some background, Comcast and Level3 have had a standard peering agreement for years, meaning the balance of incoming and outgoing traffic on either side is so similar that the two have simply agreed to exchange data without exchanging any dollars.

In the past, Comcast and Level3 had a different arrangement. Comcast paid Level3 for access to their network in a “transit” agreement.  This sort of agreement made sense at the time because Comcast was sending a lot more traffic over Level3’s network than it was taking in from Level3, hence it was a net consumer of bandwidth and was therefore treated by Level3 as a customer, rather than a peer.

Now, the tables have turned thanks to Level3 taking on the huge tasks of delivering Netflix streaming video, which takes an impressive amount of bandwidth—up to 20% of US peak traffic, according to CNET.  So, logic and economics compel Comcast to start charging Level3, as Level3 is now the net consumer.

None of this background was understand by the folks at Buzz Out Loud, which probably explains why the hosts acted as though this peering dispute was a sign of the coming Internet apocalypse, decrying the action on the podcast and summarizing their feelings on the action in the episode’s show notes by stating:

We break down the Level 3 and Comcast battle–no matter how you slice it, it’s still very, very, VERY bad for the Web.

No, it’s really, really, REALLY not. Continue reading →

Kudos on Open Kinect

by on November 24, 2010 · 3 comments

After freak-outs and backpedaling, Microsoft has revised its stance on the so-called “hacks” of the Kinect.  Wired’s Tim Carmody reported on Monday that Microsoft seems to have indicated that it won’t be taking legal action against anyone who has found new and “unsupported” uses for the Kinect.  Shannon Loftis and Alex Kipman—two Microsofties involved in the creation of the Kinect—were featured on NPR’s Science Friday and when asked if anyone would “get in trouble” for their Kinect creations, they responded with “No” and “Nope, absolutely not” respectively.

This is a refreshing change of course from Redmond.  Embracing your most enthusiastic fans and harnessing their creative power for the betterment of your product certainly makes a heck of a lot more sense than prosecuting those folks under the DMCA.

To be fair, Carmody notes that Microsoft had reason to hold off on taking this stance immediately.  Microsoft wanted to verify that the Kinect was being used as-is, as opposed to anything in the XBOX 360 being modified.  This is incredibly important, because, as Carmody succinctly notes:

If Kinect’s whole-room camera, robust facial-recognition software, and portal for video and audio chat are seen as insecure, it’s a nightmare.

Too true.  Microsoft’s sensitivity on the topic is easy to understand when this massive security concern is taken into consideration.  However, it seemed evident from the get-go that all of these “hacks” had nothing to do with hijacking the XBOX’s software for the Kinect, but rather simply plugging the hardware it into another device entirely—namely a PC running Windows or Linux.

So, kudos to Microsoft on sorting out their feelings when it comes to the Kinect.  Too bad they had to do so in public.

Kinect has been hacked, or has it? If you’ve been following the story about the release of Microsoft’s new controller-free interface for the XBOX 360, you’re probably a bit confused as to exactly has happened. But don’t worry, so is Microsoft.

Shortly—very shortly as a matter of fact—after Kinect was released last week, enterprising nerds snatched up the $150 device and started repurposing its exception hardware for all sorts of unintended purposes. Rather than waving their hands frantically in their living rooms and unintentionally injuring loved ones (HT Brooke Oberwetter), these geeks were using Microsoft’s innovative camera technology to create new ways of interacting with their computers, methods for capturing 3D objects, and iPhone-like image manipulation—and that’s just the beginning.

Microsoft’s reaction to an enthusiastic group of incredibly tech-savvy consumers taking such an interest in their products? First, Redmond issued a warning about the dangers of hacking.

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I thought I’d add a little addendum to my post below.  I just think it’s cute how Google demanding a neutral wired Internet and a non-neutral wireless Internet totally serves its self-interest.

A neutral wired net was fine for them because edge-caching, private back-hauls, and other workarounds were available to them.  They look like selfless champions of Internet ideals, but are meanwhile using every instrument at their disposal to gain an edge on the competition (as well they should, being a for-profit company).

Then this whole wireless craze comes along and the wireless Net doesn’t lend itself to those sorts of workarounds, so they need a new strategy.  Prioritizing packets is the only way for Google to gain an edge in this space, so they have to “compromise” their “principled” position on neutrality.

Funny how that worked out, huh?

Back in 2008 I wrote a lot about the kerfuffle that surrounded Google’s “OpenEdge” program, which was seen as an affront to net neutrality. Here’s a couple of the better posts on the topic:

Google’s Internet “Fast Lane”

Google’s OpenEdge Could Dramatically Reduce Google’s Impact on the Internet’s Core

That debate seems pretty similar to today’s, in that the issue was largely misunderstood, overreactions were plentiful, and semi-socialist nonsense about the Net belonging to “the people” was momentarily viewed as reasonable.

I hope that this blow-up passes just like the 2008 controversy did.

This debate is different in terms of network architecture as Google likely intends to pay Verizon for prioritization of its services over others, making the network decidedly non-neutral.  But I think that’s a good thing.

Why?  Because in 2008, Google’s dollars flowed into edge caching servers, not into wired networks themselves.  While this relieved of some traffic near the core as I’ve outlined in the post linked to above, it didn’t give wired network providers any more resources to build more robust networks.

Thankfully, the “Voogle” deal is different. Continue reading →