SAN JOSE, CA – So, the waning days of summer are upon us. The evenings are getting cooler in Palo Alto while election season is heating up around the U.S. Talking about politics is a bit taboo generally as it is one of the well-known topics you are supposed to stay away from in friendly conversations. So, with not much going on in the way of technology policy, what does that leave me to talk about in this blog? Gimmicks. You heard me right: gimmicks.My lovely wife and I attended (part of) The Doobie Brothers concert at Wente Vineyards with some of her work colleagues. The setting is lovely there in Livermore and I hope to play the Greg Norman designed golf course there sometime soon. Being a Southerner, I have been taught from an early age that if you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything at all*, so I will not be reviewing the concert. However, in the interest of the topic of this blog and the aforementioned gimmicks I thought I would post a “separated at birth” gimmick for your viewing pleasure. One of the lead guitarists of The Doobie Brothers, Pat Simmons, reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. I searched for his picture on the web and “Voila!” it hit me. See the pictures below and let me know if we are dealing with triplets or twins here. : )Pat Simmons of The Doobie BrothersVint Cerf of Google and one of the “Fathers” of the InternetRobert Pepper, Senior Managing Director of Advanced Technology Policy at Cisco (longtime FCC wonk)*Another version of this saying, of course, is “If you can’t say something nice, stand next to me” but I prefer the former.
SAN JOSE, CA – So, I’m officially old now. I was getting my morning coffee at an alternate Peet’s coffee* in Palo Alto the other morning (my regular Peet’s had a line out the door) and I saw a lot of younger people walking around. A lot of tans, happy faces and too-cool-for-school looks. “What are all these youngsters doing walking around on a Monday morning at this hour?” I asked myself. It then dawned on me that I was across the street from Palo Alto High School and it was the FIRST day of school, or, depending on where you sit, the LAST day of summer vacation. I then realized that I completely worked right through the summer…which, as my opening line laments, officially makes me old. Bummer.I graduated from North Stanly High School in New London, North Carolina wayyy back in the last millennium. 1987 to be exact. Yes, my 20-year reunion in next year. As the former class president of that august class of the North Stanly Comets, I guess I should be starting to arrange for our reunion. I’ll get right on that. High School seniors are quite different, I am sure, than seniors in 1987. Sure, we had MTV then, but no Internet, no cell phones, no texting, no PDAs, no laptops…really we were in the paper notebook and a pen era while today’s students can attend classes over the Internet from MIT (if they want). I’m not going to ding my ol’ alma mater of North Stanly High School, but MIT it wasn’t.What will all this technology and access to information mean to the high school students today? I think it is too early to tell, but I would bet that with nearly anytime access to information it will make for better informed, more well-rounded students. Growing up, we subscribed to Newsweek and The Charlotte Observer. Today, students can access media and information from all over the world. The world is getting smaller and smaller, but I’m sure the Internet is the best tool in the world for the procrastinators of the world, just as the periodicals section of the library used to be for me.*I’m not an paid endorser, but Peet’s is the best coffee around.
LONDON – A while back I wrote about the BBC limiting access to World Cup content to UK only internet connections because of event rights issues. This week, we have seen the New York Times attempt to do the reverse, i.e. block access to part of its website to anyone with a UK internet connection, to avoid the risk of being held in contempt by UK courts for publishing too many details about a sub judice terrorism case.There are UK and US angles on this story in The Guardian and The New York Times itself that make interesting reading. Of course, the same VPN connection that links me Cisco’s corporate network in the US which prevented me from watching the BBC World Cup content means that I am able to read the full New York Times coverage – a feature of internet architecture that will always make these geographical blocks imperfect. And for those who have UK internet connections, the fact that there is a community of bloggers who like nothing better than to publish controversial content means that 5 minutes work on a search engine will produce dozens of unauthorised copies of the material they are not supposed to be seeing.This is a tricky situation as there is a genuine risk of trials collapsing in the UK if inappropriate disclosure of facts has taken place in such a way as to be deemed prejudicial to a fair trial. There would be a great deal of public concern if someone suspected of a serious offence had to be released because of irresponsible publication, and the contempt laws are there precisely to prevent this from happening. But this historic arrangement is again challenged by the new global communication medium of the net and other countries’ different traditions about what can or cannot be published about court cases.
LONDON – A row blew up this month between widely-read childcare expert Gina Ford and a community website used by 250,000 mothers in the UK, mumsnet.com. This has provoked renewed thinking about the legal status of comments made on the internet.Essentially, their hosting provider was threatened with legal action if they did not take down comments made in discussions about Gina Ford and her parenting advice that were deemed by her and her lawyers to be defamatory. The proposed remedy of prior monitoring of thousands of posts a day on a community website was not thought workable by the site managers, so instead they have asked all members not to discuss Gina Ford at all. The statement that Mumsnet have published about the episode from their perspective is well worth reading. As well as having links to relevant documents it explains very clearly the problem they face in trying to host open discussions in the UK legal environment. They point out that the situation would be very different under US law. One way to avoid legal difficulties is to host a site in the US and, perhaps, to set up an offshore company that is legally responsible for the site contents in a jurisdiction where suing for libel is more difficult. This is the path taken by controversial UK political blogger Guido Fawkes.It will be interesting to see how the tensions over libel law will play out as the internet becomes an increasingly significant medium. What is clear is that it is not good for the UK internet sector for there to be legal incentives to place your hosting business outside the country.
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – Nearly 1,000 elected state legislators and a 1,000 more from business, academia and legislative staff converged on the Music City last week for the annual National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Some 150 sessions over the course of the week focused on Technology, Communications, Global Competitiveness, Health Care, Energy, Homeland Security, Political Reform, Education, and the”ABC’s of Public Health preparedness-.and other Calamities” (really, that was the title).Keynote sessions included speeches from former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to China James Sasser, world renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former Governor and EPA Secretary Christine Todd Whitman (one of my political heroes), U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and well-regarded Democratic and Republican pollsters Peter Hart and Frank Luntz. Like any big convention, it’s easy to get”lost” if you don’t set a few priorities. For this year’s conference, our focus was on establishing relationships in two key states, Georgia and Texas, and trying to influence key policy resolutions legislators were considering on advanced technology policy issues. As a former legislator in California, I know first hand that lawmakers will often take ideas from the NCSL conferences and introduce legislative bills in their own legislative bodies. Read More »