Blown To Bits

Everything Is Bits Today

Saturday, September 13th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Saturday is usually the weak newspaper day. Embarrassing news that must be revealed some time generally gets announced on Friday afternoon. Large parts of the newspaper staff are sidetracked to getting the Sunday paper ready.

But for some reason, to bits-oriented readers today’s New York Times is full of interesting stuff:

In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip Into Oblivion. A good report on the entirely unsurprising fact that digital files tend to get purged, either because people don’t realize they are important to preserve, or because new administrations tend to want to make a clean sweep and start afresh. It’s hard to put a high priority on archiving when the money could be used in some politically more expedient way. This all relates to our observations at the end of Chapter 2 about how digital information can last forever, but that’s no guarantee that it will even when you want it to.

Stuck in Google’s Doghouse. A great Joe Nocera piece on the mysteries of Google’s quality metrics and the plight of those trying to make a living through Google ads. Lots here that will make sense to readers of our Chapter 4.

Virginia: Spam Law Struck Down on Grounds of Free Speech. A great example of how hard it is to get Internet law right, as we discuss in Chapter 7. Virginia tried to control spam. A fine idea; spam is not only full of swindles, it uses enormous amounts of network bandwidth and processing locally at the machines receiving it. Unfortunately, according to the Virginia Supreme Court, the law is

unconstitutionally overbroad on its face because it prohibits the anonymous transmission of all unsolicited bulk e-mails, including those containing political, religious or other speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The conviction of a big-time spammer was overturned and he is free to prey on us all — in Virginia at least. I am sure that anti-spam laws in other states, and the federal statute, are being examined today in light of this decision.

Three big-time bits stories in one Saturday. And that’s not even counting the claim in the sexy front-page story that the Internet is contributing to the total collapse of the morality of Chilean 14-year-olds.

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