iPhone Leak (On The Media: Friday, 30 April 2010)

Shield laws are designed to protect whistleblowers by allowing journalists to refuse to testify about their sources. But should they apply in a case like Gizmodo's iPhone leak, where the source was paid for possibly stolen material? George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley says this case sets a precedent that could diminish shield law protections.

Ed Bott on the FSF’s Campaign for Ogg

Ed Bott:

Microsoft began using the MP3 format in Windows Media Player in 1998. Alcatel-Lucent filed its lawsuit in 2000. The FSF says “they would have been safe” if they had chosen Ogg Vorbis. That overlooks the inconvenient fact that the first stable version of the Ogg Vorbis reference software (version 1.0) was not released until July 2002. It’s hard to imagine how Microsoft could have chosen the “safe” open-source option when it didn’t exist yet.

Meet Google’s Secret Time Machine Investment

Google Ventures, the search giant’s VC arm, is celebrating its one-year anniversary with some show and tell: The previously secretive investment group now has a website that discloses who works there, and what they’re investing in.

Much of this info has been out in one form or another, and Venture Capital Dispatch’s Scott Austin does a good job of walking you through the details. But here’s one that caught my eye: Google has invested in a company that can see the future!

Recorded Future, based in Boston and Sweden, appears to be in beta, and has a fairly inscrutable home page. But if I’m interpreting its blog and promotional videos correctly, the gist of its product seems to be a search engine that looks for chronological data — ie references to things that happened in the past, or are supposed to happen in the future — and arrays the results in interesting graphs, etc.

Presumably there is more to it than this, but the company is keeping mum. “At this stage we do not do interviews, just trying to stay quiet and build cool stuff for now,” CEO Christopher Ahlberg wrote to me when I sent him an email inquiry today.

Google Ventures is similarly unhelpful: During a press call to talk about the VC group this afternoon, Google (GOOG) declined to say how much it had invested in Recorded Future, when it made the investment or anything else.

Luckily, the Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner did some snooping earlier this year, so he’s got a decent workup of the company here. For instance: Business intelligence firm Spotfire, Ahlberg’s previous company, was sold for $195 million in 2007, after raising $40 million.

But if you don’t like reading, here are some clips that sort of hint at where Ahlberg and Google are headed.

Steven Weber: Cool Head Cuke

I just returned from the DC Correspondent's Dinner (which I attended as a member of The Creative Coalition, an organization devoted to the restoration of arts funding in education -- more on that later) and as I tried to make sense of the disconcertingly diverse menu (bulgar wheat and crab salad appetizer, steak-fish-chicken entree, all-you-can-drink grain alcohol trough) I realized I was standing at the nexus of the modern American media, the confluence of politics, news and entertainment.

Here, like a virtual Switzerland (even Arianna wore a fetching designer dirndl!), the cream of all three genres mingled freely and giddily, interacting and crossbreeding with no impediments or animosity. It was a scene which would utterly flummox the ideological foot soldiers, whose raised fists, misspelled signs and froth-flecked rants at their feverishly vilified opponents would make one think the United States is on the brink of a major kanipshin. And after all, isn't she?

And then I had my "road to Damascus" moment (thanks to Google Maps) about the Media (or what it has evolved into). Please allow me to explain, using my most florid prose and untethered metaphors.

To a great degree (leaving out the weather, though I am starting to have my doubts about that, too) the Media's goal is to reconfigure a reasonably intelligent citizenry into a panting audience of ravenous, paranoid zombies, create and/or exploit a series of threats for the express purpose of conveniently providing an equally contrived cure for which the zombies will gladly pay, thereby providing the creators with a self-perpetuating surplus.

Sounds like a 1950's drive-in movie monster made from rubber, carpet fringe and several hundred choice pages from Atlas Shrugged.

But it's not. No longer content with analog-era relics like the stolid delivery of the day's events, occasionally interrupted by benign warnings about the evils of "ring around the collar" and other small-potato syndromes which appealed only to a specific demographic of housebound hausfraus and impressionable insomniacs, they have taken it to the next dimension: the large scale construction of a virtually air-tight environment with built-in problems and built-in solutions; an environment, the function of which is predicated on its inhabitants never needing to leave its confines (lest they find out that their "world" is all a bunch of malarkey).

By piggybacking their digital re-creation upon an existing biological infrastructure (hope, expectation, fear, pride, etc.), the consumer (née citizen) twitches to newer, fresher, more profitable monsters, boogie men with beards and bombs and silver-tongued devils who bow and have brown skin.

Taking the lead from the father of modern PR spin-meistering Edward Bernays (...no relation to the sauce), our current crop of media entrepreneurs leave no corner of our culture unexploited. There's juice to be squeezed from every last pixel. In their scrupulously contrived world, there's simply no money in civility, no money in being patient, thrifty and wise. And along with callously herding the minds of American citizens, they are also merely being faithful capitalists, so, really, how bad can they be?

Wait. I'm just passing the last bulgar wheat kernel. Okay.

Now that we've all been edified by these exhaustively researched conclusions what is, as Tiger Woods might have said regarding his trusty mashie, the upshot?

Well, the first thing we need to do is reinstate the one crucial element which has been purposely deleted from the landscape, one which the designers have deemed an impediment to their profit-driven province:


Time to ponder. Time to analyze. The time which has lately been highjacked by instant action/reaction and sleek, sexy, high-tech impulsiveness that wires behavior formerly regulated by conscience and informed judgment, all to execute its imperative: to consume, consume, consume its products without question.

That's what I saw.

In other words, the truth behind Our American Media (and to a certain extent Our Modern World) lent those who picnicked along the banks of this Foggy Bottom Lake Victoria and dipped their bunion-warped feet into the carbonated, crystalline pool, a cool serenity, a deeply felt reassurance that all our woes as articulated by the talking heads are no more than products on a shelf, produce to be squeezed, thumped and weighed for salad. We ate, we drank, we laughed until our sides ached. It was a massive, delirious circuit-jerk.

That serene reassurance, however, is denied the audience downstream, where the clever constructs become embedded in daily discourse and have real -- not virtual -- consequences.

That said, take a page from our president: stay cool as a cucumber. Use psychological jujitsu. Let the other guys freak. And if you eat bulgar wheat and steak drink a hell of a lot of water.