Fight Globally, Speak Locally

U.S. foreign policy spurs demand for startups that make it easier to learn foreign languages and converse in far-flung theaters.
March 20, 2006 Issue

Linguist W. Lewis Johnson, a computer science expert from the University of Southern California, can’t read or write Arabic. Yet he can speak the language well enough to train Marines in it at southern California’s Camp Pendleton.

Mr. Johnson is helping officers there learn the way he did—by playing a video game. In a typical game scenario, a learner assumes the role of a computer-generated male character, dressed in green fatigues and a pair of dark glasses, walking down a street with two colleagues. His mission: Find out who the local leader is and ask for directions to his house.

To do that, the character must walk up to a group of “locals” seated at a café, greet them, exchange pleasantries, inquire about their leader, convince them of his intentions, and successfully obtain the directions—all in Arabic. During the process, players get help in the Arabic phrases they have to say to get the task done.

The game is engaging, fun, and interactive. Best of all, in a little more than two weeks, most people come away feeling that they have a functional ability in Arabic, says Mr. Johnson. “People tend to be very competitive while playing video games, and they learn quickly if they want to win.”

It’s no surprise that the U.S. military has him teaching Arabic to officers. The United States’ war on terror, which has made the Middle East and Afghanistan the new theaters of engagement, has spurred demand for speakers of the local languages. U.S. intelligence agencies are scrambling for recruits with conversational Arabic, Dari, and Pashtu, with little success.

Military personnel who can speak these languages are in short supply. In fact, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “The total number of undergraduate degrees granted in Arabic in all U.S. colleges and universities in 2002 was six.” Even assuming that the number is as inaccurate as the data on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. Army’s Defense Language Institute has done an impressive job signing up enrollees for its Arabic language courses—700 so far. But that’s still far short of what the U.S. military needs, given that it has more than 150,000 troops currently deployed in Iraq alone.

Translating Terror
The shortage has spawned startups that are making it easier for government personnel to learn, speak, and translate different languages.

Mr. Johnson’s video game program, Tactical Iraqi, was developed by one of those startups, Tactical Language. The company, which he now heads, grew out of a research project he led at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute.

There are others, too. Marina del Rey, California-based Language Weaver has developed software that automates document translation from languages like Arabic to English. SRI International of Menlo Park, California, developed a handheld translator device called the Phraselator, which turns spoken English phrases into other languages. “The war on terror has definitely been the catalyst,” says Language Weaver CEO Bryce Benjamin.

Development of Tactical Iraqi was largely funded by the U.S. government as part of a three-year effort by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to transform military training tools by making them interactive, easier to learn, and technologically up-to-date.

The game fits DARPA’s bill perfectly. In the product customized for the military, users learn how to introduce themselves and greet others, get directions, arrange a meeting with the local leader, discuss a reconstruction project, handle a medical emergency, or conduct searches—all in Arabic.

The game also deals with cultural cues. A player quickly gleans, for instance, that taking off his sunglasses before starting a conversation elicits a better response from the computer-generated Iraqi character than the reaction he would get otherwise.

“You don’t have to worry about becoming embarrassed and making a fool of yourself—the computer isn’t going to laugh at you,” says Mr. Johnson.

Tactical Language, which incorporated a year ago with $1.5 million from angel investors and the U.S. government’s Small Business Innovation Research program, has just seven employees. It garnered sales of $1.5 million with its one product last year and Mr. Johnson expects to double or even triple that figure this year. “The demand for foreign language and cultural skills is only going to increase,” he says.

That’s what Language Weaver is betting on, too. But instead of relying on human translators, Language Weaver promises to teach computers how to translate text almost as well as a human can, something other companies have failed to accomplish.

“Most people who have tried to use free translation on the web know that what comes out on the output side is so disjointed and grammatically incorrect that it doesn’t look like something that a person would write,” says Kevin Knight, chief scientist and founder of Language Weaver.

Indeed, how is it that a computer translating something as simple as “university hospital” from Japanese to English can come up with “medical department attachment hospital?” It happens because automatic translation products tend to use predefined grammar and linguistic rules, instead of allowing for idiosyncrasies of the language.

Language Weaver software determines how words and phrases relate to each other to create coherent sentences. Based on that, the software generates several translation possibilities, rates their statistical probabilities, and then chooses the best option based on the context of the document. It’s much like the mental process humans would use to figure out that a medical department attached to a university might really mean a university hospital.

The program could be a valuable tool for the U.S. military, multiplying the amount of foreign information that it can read and understand, say analysts. No surprise, then, that the seed funding for Language Weaver came from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. In October, the startup said it raised $4 million in its second round of funding led by Palisades Ventures.

Key to both Language Weaver and Tactical Language is software that can recognize complex language patterns in either speech or written language. Older speech recognition technology allows a user to say a few words that are recognized by the computer. Tactical Iraqi takes the next step and turns that dialogue into a conversation.

The program listens to the sentence the user says and figures out what is being said, whether it is the right thing to say, and whether it is being said in the right accent. That’s pretty amazing, says Avron Barr, founder and principal of Silicon Valley consultancy firm Aldo Ventures, who helped evaluate Tactical Iraqi as a consultant with DARPA. “My first impressions were they couldn’t do it,” he says. “But they have actually kept their schedule and done everything promised and more.”

Dangerous Customers
So far, for about $1,500 each including hardware, Tactical Language has installed about 100 copies of its Iraqi language software in the U.S. military’s training labs (each installation covers between 10 and 15 computers). A consumer version, whose price is yet to be determined, will likely be out in a few months, says Mr. Johnson. Language Weaver, apparently profitable since 2003, has watched sales grow more than 1,300 percent, with government sales accounting for 75 percent of revenue.

That degree of reliance on government sales could spell trouble for both companies, says Don DePalma, founder of Common Sense Advisory, a research and consulting firm that specializes in translation and localization issues. Mr. DePalma studied Russian and Czech in the 1970s and watched interest (and funding) in those languages dry up with the end of the Cold War. He thinks the same could happen to languages that these startups are betting on, including Arabic and Pashtu. “The desire to spend money is tied to what the need du jour is,” he says.

Aware of changing language needs, both Tactical Language and Language Weaver are developing Mandarin Chinese and Japanese products. “As companies go global there will be increased pressure to access and deliver content in languages other than English,” says Jackie Fenn, a Gartner fellow in emerging trends. But to increase their reach, these startups will have to convince potential clients that their software can do what other programs failed to do in the past, she says.

Language Weaver says it can turn out translations that are about 90 percent accurate—but that’s only when the software has been fed similar documents for a few weeks to familiarize it with the context and the information. That still leaves open the possibility—a scary one—that the 10 percent it got wrong contained the crucial part of the document’s message.

So much work remains to be done. Extending the technology to the web or other areas that have a greater range of subjects could lower translation accuracy to about 75 percent.

Still, the new products offered by companies like Language Weaver, Tactical Language, and SRI International are a big step ahead of what is used today. And anything that gets the world closer to finding those elusive weapons of mass destruction has to be a good thing.

© 1993-2006 Red Herring, Inc. All rights reserved.

Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies

By Declan McCullagh

Unmanned aerial vehicles have soared the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq for years, spotting enemy encampments, protecting military bases, and even launching missile attacks against suspected terrorists.

Now UAVs may be landing in the United States.
A House of Representatives panel on Wednesday heard testimony from police agencies that envision using UAVs for everything from border security to domestic surveillance high above American cities. Private companies also hope to use UAVs for tasks such as aerial photography and pipeline monitoring.

“We need additional technology to supplement manned aircraft surveillance and current ground assets to ensure more effective monitoring of United States territory,” Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner at Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection Bureau, told the House Transportation subcommittee.

Kostelnik was talking about patrolling U.S. borders and ports from altitudes around 12,000 feet, an automated operation that’s currently underway in Arizona. But that’s only the beginning of the potential of surveillance from the sky.
In a scene that could have been inspired by the movie “Minority Report,” one North Carolina county is using a UAV equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens. The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air–close enough to identify faces–and many more uses, such as the aerial detection of marijuana fields, are planned.

That raises not just privacy concerns, but also safety concerns because of the possibility of collisions with commercial and general aviation aircraft.

“They’re a legitimate user of the airspace and they need to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Melissa Rudinger, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said in a telephone interview.

Pilots undergo extensive training on collision detection and avoidance. Planes that fly at night are required to have certain types of lights, for instance. Operating an aircraft near busy airports (in government parlance, “Class B” airports) requires a transponder that broadcasts its altitude. And during all flights that take place in poor weather or higher than 18,000 feet above sea level, the pilot must be in radio contact with controllers.
No such anti-collision rules apply to UAVs. Rudinger is concerned that UAVs–either remote-controlled or autonomous drones–will pose a safety threat to pilots and their passengers. She’s not that worried about larger UAVs operated by the military that have sophisticated radar systems, but about smaller ones that have limited equipment and potentially inexperienced ground controllers.

“The FAA needs to define what is a UAV,” Rudinger said. “And they need to regulate it just like they do any other aircraft, and integrate it into the system. The problem is the technology has advanced, and there are no regulations that talk about how to certify these aircraft, how to certify For its part, the FAA says it’s created a UAV “program office” to come up with new rules of the sky. Preliminary standards for “sense and avoid” UAV avionics are expected in three to four years.

“Currently there is no recognized technology solution that could make these aircraft capable of meeting regulatory requirements for ‘see and avoid,’ and ‘command and control,'” said Nick Sabatini, associate FAA administrator for aviation safety. “Further, some unmanned aircraft will likely never receive unrestricted access to (U.S. airspace) due to the limited amount of avionics it can carry because of weight, such as transponders, that can be installed in a vehicle itself weighing just a few ounces.”

Complicating the question of how to deal with UAVs is the fact that there are so many different varieties of them. Some are essentially large model aircraft and weigh only a few ounces or pounds, while some military models are the size of a Boeing 737. Most are designed to sip fuel slowly, so they have long flight times and low airspeeds–meaning that they could be flying at the same altitude as a jet aircraft but at half the speed.
Egging on Congress and the FAA are manufacturers of UAVs, who see a lucrative market in domestic surveillance and aerial photography.

“It is quite easy to envision a future in which (UAVs), unaffected by pilot fatigue, provide 24-7 border and port surveillance to protect against terrorist intrusion,” said Mike Heintz on behalf of the UNITE Alliance which represents Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. “Other examples are limited only by our imagination.”

Island Wisdom, Coded in Java

Quinn Norton
(Wired) 02:00 AM Mar, 24, 2006

Charles Armstrong had one day job in his life — working as an account manager for an internet marketing firm in London. He didn’t like it. Communication was dysfunctional, morale was terrible. Like anyone who’s served time in cubical hell, Armstrong was certain people could do better.

So in 1999 he set out to conduct an ethnographic study of how people naturally communicate and organize when shorn of externalities like e-mail and PowerPoint. His quest took him to the tiny island of St. Agnes, the smallest of the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles off the coast of Britain. He lived there for a year, studying how the 80-or-so island villagers interacted and functioned.

Not surprisingly, life on the island contrasted powerfully with the corporate culture of London business. “Looking at how people schedule tasks and priorities, in most conventional organizations people make a to-do list, then they will do the highest-priority things first,” he says. “On St. Agnes, somebody wakes up, has breakfast, walks out the door and looks up at the sky…. If it looks like the right kind of wind and tide to catch a kind of fish they like, they might just do that first.”

That same fluidity extended to communications, says Armstrong, with unexpected efficiency. If Friday’s boat from St. Mary was canceled, there might be six people in the village that needed to know. Armstrong found consistently they would all have that information within hours, even without a formal distribution system, and few uninterested people would be burdened with the knowledge.

From studying how this and other situations played out, Armstrong formulated a set of fundamental principles on how people communicate.

Now Armstrong is readying a productivity tool that he hopes will put those precepts into action. Called Trampoline, the program will integrate with a company’s existing desktop and enterprise server applications, sitting quietly on a company’s network and vacuuming in e-mail, files, spreadsheets and anything else it can find.

From there, Trampoline indexes the data by parameters like authorization, originator and destination, and scours it for “semantic triggers” — interesting words that tend to crop up a lot. Then, like a village gossip, it shares information with people who might have use for it within the organization.

If, for instance, one of the semantic triggers matches the interests of another person on the network, that new bit of data will be added to a weekly e-mail of interesting items sent to that person.

This alert mechanism automates what Armstrong says is an intangible, but crucial, element in natural communications: the “delight” of discovery.

On St. Agnes, “you never know what you’re going to hear or learn,” says Armstrong. “If I walked out of my door, I was going to bump into a half-dozen people…. I might find the Hicks doing something with planting bulbs, and they would tell me about it, and it’s this fascinating piece of wisdom.”

The program is an update of an earlier, hosted solution, also called Trampoline, that didn’t interface with a company’s existing e-mail and productivity tools, and incorporated less of Armstrong’s research. Despite those limitations, the first Trampoline rollout enjoyed some early success, most significantly as part of a sustainable energy initiative of the U.K.’s Foreign Office called the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, or REEEP, where some 3,800 users work in the virtual-island setting.

Nick Mabey, a team leader at the U.K. Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, says REEEP struggled with collaboration between many countries, cultures and companies. “We wanted to move from face-to-face and flying around collaboration to be more virtual,” he says. Trampoline has proven useful in juggling what Mabey describes as a mix of diplomacy, campaigning and conversation. “We were working with very busy people with high time pressure. It was quite seamless for them, they could learn to use it over time.”

But Mabey cautions that the program wasn’t a cure-all for organizational dysfunction. “It can’t give you the wisdom of how to work with other people, but it can allow you to apply the wisdom of how to work with other people.”

Danah Boyd, who researches social software and networks at the University of California at Berkeley, says she’s excited by Armstrong’s ambition to use software to facilitate serendipity. Random providence, she says, is something that “people find delightful at all times.”

“Employees are interested in not what’s more useful, but whatever makes them smile,” says Boyd. And when employees aren’t totally committed to their work, the small joys of discovery might re-engage them.

But Boyd says she is wary of any collaborative software that tries to solve social problems, and she cautions that Armstrong’s algorithms might result in users being deluged with data. “It has a value, until we feel like we have reached too much information,” she says, but at that point additional input becomes frustrating.

To address that, Trampoline filters incoming information as well, pushing irrelevant data into digest formats that can be perused later. Users can also set levels of authorization on their data, so a private message to a spouse or a furtive résumé update doesn’t get added to an alert.

Armstrong says much of the challenge in translating his island observations into Java code was making sure the program facilitates natural communication without getting in the way. “That’s almost been a design constraint — this will only work if you don’t need any training.” He sees his work as part of a growing field that parallels biomimetics, which uses computers to imitate biological qualities of organisms. He says “sociomimetics” will allow technology to mimic human interaction.

“Social software is implicitly doing that, but it isn’t rooted in a particularly deep analysis in social behavior,” says Armstrong. “I think that will change.”

Afghan Judge in Convert Case Vows to Resist Foreign Pressure

New York Times-March 24, 2006
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 23 — Despite growing international concern, the judge presiding over the prosecution of an Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity said today that international pressure would not affect his rulings in the case.

Ansarullah Mawlavi Zada, the head of the public security tribunal here in the Afghan capital, said he had received no international pressure to date, but vowed to resist it.

“There is no direct pressure on our court so far, but if it happens we will consider it as an interference,” said Mr. Zada. He added that he expects to rule in the case in the next several days.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Bush administration continued to express its dismay and to increase the pressure on Kabul. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke this morning with President Hamid Karzai and discussed the affair “in the strongest possible terms,” said the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack.

“She called specifically on this topic,” Mr. McCormack said. “And she urged President Karzai’s government to seek a favorable resolution to this case the earliest possible moment.” Mr. McCormack said Ms. Rice also told Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, in a 15-minute meeting in Washington today that she was deeply troubled by the case, and that the prosecution was “contrary to universal democratic values,” which include freedom of religion. Ms. Rice said that the United States fought for those values in Afghanistan, and that the case was contrary to the Afghan constitution, Mr. McCormack said.

The same message came today from the White House, where President Bush’s chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, said the Afghan case “clearly violates the universal freedoms that democracies around the world hold dear. And we are watching it very closely.”

On Wednesday, President Bush issued a statement that the United States expected Afghan officials to “honor the universal principle of freedom” in the case. Germany, Italy and other countries that have deployed troops in Afghanistan have also issued statements of concern.

Afghan prosecutors have requested the death penalty for the 41-year-old convert, Abdul Rahman. Mr. Rahman told a preliminary hearing in Afghanistan last week that he converted to Christianity about 15 years ago while working with a Christian aid group helping refugees. When he recently sought custody of his children from his parents, family members reported his conversion.

Prosecutors have described Mr. Rahman as a “microbe” and said conversion is illegal under Islamic law. Conservative Afghan religious leaders dominate the country’s courts and prosecutorial offices, but Afghanistan’s American-backed constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

The case illustrates the continued tensions between President Karzai, an American-backed religious moderate, and religious hardliners who dominate the country’s courts. Over the last several years conservative judges have threatened to close Afghan television stations that aired material they deemed indecent and charged journalists with publishing material they declared blasphemous.

In the past, President Karzai has defused clashes with conservative judges by failing to implement their rulings or striking closed-door compromises with them. Mr. Rahman’s case has attracted far more attention than others and sparked vocal complaints from American Christian groups.

Today, an aide to Mr. Karzai said that the case would be decided by the Afghan court court system. Mawlavi Muhaiuddin Baloch, Mr. Karzai’s advisor on religious affairs, said the case belonged in court and that Afghanistan’s judiciary was independent.

In the United States this week, Christian talk shows and advocacy groups rallied their supporters, who flooded the White House and the Afghanistan Embassy with complaints.

The embassy released a statement Wednesday saying that it was “too early” to draw conclusions, and that a judge was now “evaluating questions raised about the mental fitness of Mr. Rahman.” The embassy said the results of that evaluation “may end the proceedings.”

President Bush, in a visit to Wheeling, W.Va., on Wednesday was asked about the case. He responded: “I’m troubled when I hear — deeply troubled when I hear that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That’s not the universal application of the values that I talked about.”

On conservative blogs, a plan for a rally outside the Afghan Embassy in Washington were discussed. While some bloggers expressed satisfaction that the issue was gaining wider attention and drawing a response from the Bush administration, others were exasperated that a regime supported by the United States was considering such a prosecution.

At the State Department briefing today, Mr. McCormack denied that the administration had been slow to respond to the Rahman case. As soon as we learned about it, “we stated our concerns immediately with the foreign minister,” he said. “After our initial conversation with the Afghan government we thought it was important that we spoke in the

strongest possible terms in public on this issue.”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan government group that works closely with the State Department, has previously warned that the Afghan Constitution does not adequately protect religious freedoms, said Tad Stahnke, the commission’s deputy director for policy.

Officials from Germany, Italy and Canada, which all have troops serving in Afghanistan, have voiced their concerns to Mr. Karzai’s government. The Italian foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Gianfranco Fini, said Tuesday that he had received assurance that Mr. Rahman would not be executed, but he did not elaborate.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, called for Mr. Rahman’s release, saying that the Koran supported religious freedom and that Islam was never compulsory. CAIR said its position was endorsed by the Fiqh Council of North America, a committee of Islamic legal scholars.

David Rohde and Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting from New York.

How France is Saving Civilization,70461-0.html?tw=wn_technology_2

New legislation in France would force Apple Computer to open the iPod and iTunes to competitors — and that’s a good thing for consumers, in the long run.
On Tuesday, the French parliament passed a law that would require digital content bought at any online store to be playable on any hardware. The law would be applicable to all hardware and service providers, but the immediate impact would be on Apple and iTunes, and may prompt the company to withdraw from France.

To many, France’s move seems patently unfair to Apple.

The company created the market for legal music downloads, why shouldn’t it dominate it? Why should the French government help competitors like Microsoft or Sony to get a foothold in a market they have proven incapable of competing in? And why should Apple be subject to antimonopoly legislation when rivals like Microsoft traditionally have not? To free marketers, it’s government meddling at its worst.

But French legislators aren’t just looking at Apple. They’re looking ahead to a time when most entertainment is online, a shift with profound consequences for consumers and culture in general. French lawmakers want to protect the consumer from one or two companies holding the keys to all of its culture, just as Microsoft holds the keys to today’s desktop computers.

“It is unacceptable that  … the key should be controlled by a monopoly. France is against monopolies,” Martin Rogard, an adviser at the French Culture Ministry, told Financial Times. “The consumer must be able to listen to the music they have bought on no matter what platform.”

Apple may not qualify as a literal monopoly — there are lots of ways to get music and buying online accounts for only a small fraction of total music sales. But the sliver it does control it controls almost completely, and it’s not out of the question to suggest that this sliver will ultimately become the only way people will buy music in the future.

Apple’s head start is not to be dismissed lightly.

The FairPlay copy-protection mechanism in iTunes and the iPod was Hollywood’s idea. Apple initially balked at copy protection, but as the iPod and iTunes took off, the company realized FairPlay had an important secondary function: It locked iPod users into the online iTunes Music Store, and iTunes music buyers into the iPod.

This kind of vendor lock-in is a time-honored business practice in the tech industry, and is the exact same tactic successfully employed by Microsoft to build an illegal monopoly in desktop computers.

It’s early days yet, and this may be premature, but Apple may become the Microsoft of the digital entertainment era.

Music and movies are fast transforming from the old analog formats to new digital ones. Every sale of a big plasma TV or music download is another step toward the digital entertainment future when all music and movies are routed through PCs or PC-like appliances like a TiVo box.

Apple’s iTunes and its underlying QuickTime software is already popular, and with every iPod sale, the software is installed on another computer, usually a Windows machine. Each installation is a beachhead that allows Apple to route around Microsoft’s desktop monopoly — and the living room monopoly of the cable TV providers.

Apple has several toes in the living room door, but the most intriguing play could be the Mac mini — the little box refreshed a few weeks ago with Intel chips. The mini would be a perfect living room media box, some say, if only it could record and play back TV shows like a TiVo or one of Microsoft’s Media Center PCs.

In fact, Apple may be one step ahead. Why would the mini need to record TV shows when it can be used to go online and order them from the iTunes Music Store instead?

Already the iTunes store has dozens of popular TV shows and, as of last week, its first full-length movie. So Apple, more so than any other company I can think of, is poised to extend its proprietary digital rights management to a whole new category of media — on-demand video downloads.

Surely, this is the model of TV in the future. Shows are made available when the consumer wants to watch them, rather than on a rigid, inflexible broadcast schedule.

It’s already happening. I’m a Comcast subscriber, and I no longer tape The Sopranos or Deadwood because I can get them on demand, whenever I like, through my cable box/DVR.

It’s easy and convenient, and it saves on hard-drive space, but there are definite downsides: I can’t save the shows, nor can I easily load them onto a laptop to watch on a plane or burn them to DVD for archiving. Most of the shows are unavailable after the season concludes.

These restrictions are purposeful, of course, and not just to protect against digital piracy. HBO doesn’t want these shows on BitTorrent, but it also doesn’t want them recorded at home because this would harm DVD sales, a very big part of the TV business.

So it may be convenient for me to get shows on demand, but this comes at a price. My TV is tied intimately to the Comcast DVR box I rent, and I lose some of my consumer rights (saving shows, watching them on a different device) so that the entertainment industry can protect its old business models.

Enter Apple, which may soon strike deals with the TV networks and video production houses that will see hundreds of TV shows, documentaries, music videos and so on, hosted on an iTunes music and movie store — accessed only though Apple’s software or hardware, like the Mac mini.

If such a scenario comes true, Apple will become more and more powerful as the gatekeeper to this content. And it will behave like every other big, powerful global corporation — as a predatory monopoly.

There are few Mac users prepared to argue that Microsoft’s monopoly in desktop PCs has been a good thing for the technology industry; why would an Apple monopoly of digital entertainment be any different?

Vive la France.

Friendly killer whale sucked into tugboat’s propeller

C B C . C A N e w s – F u l l S t o r y :

Last Updated Fri, 10 Mar 2006 17:27:47 EST
CBC News
Luna, the Vancouver Island killer whale with a reputation for being friendly to humans, was killed after getting too close to a tugboat’s propellers.

Dr. John Ford, a scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, confirmed Friday Luna died after being sucked into the propellers of the Vancouver tugboat General Jackson in Nootka Sound, on the west coast of the island.

Luna the killer whale (CP file photo))
“There’s really no blame,” said Ford, referring to the fact Luna loved playing with boats of any kind and seemed able to keep safe.

The killer whale arrived in the community of Gold River in Nootka Sound in 2001 after he got separated from his pod. He took an interest, and the people of Gold River got used to him.

Luna’s friendly nature attracted worldwide attention and brought many tourists to the pulp mill town.

By 2004, Luna’s affection for boats and float planes became a hazard. Fisheries officials tried to relocate him down the coast to reunite him with his pod, but local aboriginal people protested. The Mowaat-Muchalaat First Nation believe Luna to embody the spirit of their dead chief who died just days before Luna appeared.

Fisheries authorities and the Mowaat-Muchalaat hammered out an agreement to watch out for Luna, leaving him in the sound.

David Wiwchar, the managing editor of of the Ha-Shilth-sa newspaper, said the tug had arrived in the sound in bad weather, pulling a large log-dumping barge.

Luna was familiar with the General Jackson and went out to meet it, and got sucked into the propellers, and was killed immediately.

“We have been told that the skipper is greatly distressed,” said Lara Sloan, spokesperson for the Fisheries Department.

“The tug was idling – it is assumed that Luna was doing what he usually does and that is playing around the propellers.”

Ed Thorburn with the Fisheries Department said he had noticed Luna wasn’t coming to shore as often in the past few weeks. The whale was also sporting new cuts near his eyes. “He didn’t socialize with people on boats so much as rubbing against the bottoms of boats. That’s a bit of a change.”

Fisheries officials say they are 99 per cent sure Luna is the whale that was killed. Scientists from the department say they will take tissue samples for research purposes and to confirm that it was Luna.

Copyright ©2006 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – All Rights Reserved

The Wild Web of China: Sex and Drugs, Not Reform

March 8, 2006
The Wild Web of China: Sex and Drugs, Not Reform
New York Times, 2006

SHANGHAI, March 7 ? By some estimates, there are more than 30,000 people patrolling the Web in China, helping to form one of the world’s far-reaching Internet filtering systems.

But while China’s huge Internet police force is busy deleting annoying phrases like “free speech” and “human rights” from online bulletin boards, specialists say that Wild West capitalism has moved from the real economy in China to the virtual one.

Indeed, the unchecked freedoms that exist on the Web, analysts say, are perhaps unwittingly ushering in an age of startling social change. The Web in China is a thriving marketplace for everyone, including scam artists, snake oil salesmen and hard-core criminals who are only too eager to turn consumers into victims.

Chinese entrepreneurs who started out brazenly selling downloadable pirated music and movies from online storefronts have extended their product lines ? peddling drugs and sex, stolen cars, firearms and even organs for transplanting.

Much of this is happening because Internet use has grown so fast, with 110 million Web surfers in China, second only to the United States. Last year, online revenue ? which the government defines more broadly than it is in the United States ? was valued at $69 billion, up around 58 percent from the year before, according to a survey by the China Internet Development Research Center.

By 2010, Wall Street analysts say China could have the world’s leading online commerce, with revenue coming from advertising, e-commerce and subscription fees, as well as illicit services.

The authorities have vowed to crack down on illegal Web sites and say that more than 2,000 sex and gambling sites have been shut down in recent years. But new sites are eluding them every day.

“It’s a wild place,” Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the graduate journalism school of the University of California, Berkeley, said of China’s Web. “Outside of politics, China is as free as anywhere. You can find porn just about anywhere on the Internet.”

On any of China’s leading search engines, enter sensitive political terms like “Tiananmen Square” or “Falun Gong,” and the computer is likely to crash or simply offer a list of censored Web sites. But terms like “hot sex” or “illegal drugs” take users to dozens of links to Web sites allowing them to download sex videos, gain entry to online sports gambling dens or even make purchases of heroin. The scams are flourishing.

A small sampling recently turned up these sites:

�A look-alike Web site pretending to be part of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China asks visitors to enter their account passwords.

�A Web site that calls itself Honest Company specializes in deception ? selling bugging devices, machines to produce fake credit cards and tools that rig casino slot machines.

�A pornographic Web site asks people to pay $2 a month to download sex videos and chat with other online customers in the nude.

�A Web site advertises the sale of gamma hydroxybutyrate, a drug that acts as a relaxant and is thought to reduce inhibitions. Sometimes called a “date rape” drug, it is sold on the Web in China with instructions about how to use it to assault women.

Even the official New China News Agency seems to have gotten into the act. While the top of its news pages carries dispatches like “China Aims to Achieve Balance of Payments in 2006,” some at the bottom feature links to soft-porn photographs of Chinese movie stars like Gong Li and Zhou Xun.

“The Internet is a reflection of the real world,” says Lu Weigang, an analyst at the China Internet Network Information Center in Beijing. “Everything you have in the real world appears on the Internet.”

Countless Web sites peddle police weapons, pepper spray and even machines to siphon electricity from power lines. Earlier this week, an eBay user in China offered to put up for auction his or her kidney and liver for $100,000. Reached on Monday, eBay said that selling human organs was forbidden on its site and deleted the entry.

And a Web site called the Patriotic Hacker asserts that an instructor “led and initiated attacks on Japanese Web sites more than 10 times.” It says he even managed to shut down the official Web site for the Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan’s World War II military heroes.

There are also Web sites here that sell “miracle drugs” promising to cure cancer or AIDS, sites that say they will create fake government ID cards; some that even promise to break into the national education database to change official records.

Most of the sites are forbidden by law. On paper, the government’s Internet regulations forbid the display of any information that damages state security, harms the dignity of the state, promotes pornography and gambling, or “spreads evil cults” and “feudal superstitions.”

How does all this get by the Internet patrols in a country where violators risk 3 to 10 years in prison, or in some cases even the death penalty? Analysts say that the growth in the Internet has simply created too many sites to patrol. In contrast, there are too few incentives to close down sites, particularly when government-owned Internet service providers, telecommunications companies and even state-run Web sites are making big profits from them.

“The Chinese government launches campaigns on the Internet to crack down on pornography or the sale of illegal goods once or twice a year, but this is not an efficient way,” Mr. Lu at the China Internet Network Information Center said.

What is successful is online entertainment., a Google-like search engine, has a daily poll of the top 10 most beautiful women. publishes a popular celebrity blog by the actress and director Xu Jinglei.

A social networking Web site,, opened last August, and months later its owner, a Shanghai-based private company, said the site had more than three million registered users, mostly 15 to 25, who create personalized Web pages and meet online. “Most Internet services are about entertainment,” said Pang Shengdong, 29, who founded “What do people do every day other than make money? They entertain themselves.”

Richard Ji, an Internet analyst at Morgan Stanley, said traffic in this country was dominated by young singles, many of them searching for games, dates, entertainment and community. A recent survey found that nearly 38 percent of the nation’s Internet users search for entertainment on the Web. The growing enthusiasm for the Internet in China is one reason some of the biggest Internet and technology companies, like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, are eager to have a presence here, even if it means submitting to China’s stringent censorship rules.

In the view of Dali L. Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago: “It’s truly remarkable. This is fundamentally a social revolution.”

Mr. Yang says that the social dynamics taking place on the Web might once have been considered political, and certainly marks of a bourgeois lifestyle.

“But now,” he said, “the Communist Party realizes that in a market economy and a globalized economy, they don’t have the manpower to cover it all. It may be political, but it’s not high politics.”