College funding bill passed with anti-P2P provisions intact

The Senate and House have voted to reauthorize the Higher Education Act and approved controversial new provisions that will require universities to provide students with access to commercial music downloading services and implement traffic filtering technologies in order to deter peer-to-peer filesharing. The bill now goes to President Bush, who is expected to sign it into law. HangZhou Night Net

These provisions have strong support from the content industry, but have been targeted with widespread criticism from the academic community and advocacy groups such as Educause. The push for mandatory filtering at universities began in 2007 when the RIAA published a list of top piracy schools and the MPAA claimed that piracy on university campuses accounts for 44 percent of the movie industry's annual losses to piracy. The group later retracted this claim when it was discovered that the numbers were grossly inflated. The RIAA followed up its top piracy school list with a litigation and propaganda campaign which included the development of a web site to handle automated settlements, but soon faced serious setbacks in court.

The MPAA also developed an Ubuntu-based software toolkit for detecting file-sharing on university networks, but was forced to discontinue distribution of the software when they were hit with a Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown notice. The MPAA had violated copyright law by failing to adhere to the General Public License under which Ubuntu is distributed.

The MPAA's high-tech anti-piracy solution

The RIAA and MPAA have vigorously lobbied for a legislative solution at both the state and federal levels. Pressure from the content industry compelled Congress to begin investigating the issue.

The lobbying efforts eventually resulted in the addition of anti-piracy provisions in the College Opportunity and Affordability Act in the House, which passed by a wide margin in February. The Senate version of this bill passed today with bipartisan support.

A statement issued by the joint House and Senate committees responsible for harmonizing the two versions of the bill explains that universities will have to begin authoring formal piracy deterrence plans. The statement also recommends several commercial anti-P2P technologies including Audible Magic's CopySense Network Appliance and Red Lambda's Integrity filtering tool.

"[The amendment includes] language requiring institutions to make available the development of plans to detect and prevent unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material on the institution of higher education's information technology system," the statement says. "The Conferees have combined elements from both bills to require institutions to advise students about this issue and to certify that all institutions have plans to combat and reduce illegal peer to peer file sharing."

The MPAA hailed the bill's passage. "We work closely with leaders in the higher education community because we both have a stake in ensuring that intellectual property continues to be a strong, vibrant part of our nation's economy," said MPAA president Dan Glickman. "By including these important provisions in the Higher Education Act, Congress is sending a strong message that intellectual property is worth protecting."

The MPAA will shortly begin sending out what it describes as "campus briefing books" that contain information on the anti-piracy provisions of the new law and what schools need to do in order to be in compliance. The books will also offer hints on how to clamp down on P2P traffic and detect infringement.

There are presently no penalties for failing to comply with the requirement, but Educause and many in the academic community fear that the new provisions are a trojan horse that will open the door for Congress to add penalties in future iterations. If this happens, universities could potentially be denied funding if they don't agree to play copyright cop.

Further readingPatry Copyright Blog: Educators Forced to Become MPAA's Cops

First look: revamped Games for Windows Live

Games For Windows Live may have once been the neglected member of the growing "PC gaming portal" community, but the removal of subscription fees and the renewed dedication to the platform on the part of Microsoft has the company's offering looking better and better by the day. A significant Games For Windows Live update is planned for the platform later this fall, which will include a vast revamp of both the look of the service and its functionality. HangZhou Night Net

Following the news that the service would be going free, Ars spoke with Microsoft's senior global director of Windows gaming, Kevin Unangst, about the changes to the interface of Games For Windows Live and about how the company was planning to improve the system. Pictured below is the forthcoming revamped version of the GFWL interface found during games. Click the image for a closer look; the image in the top-left corner is the old interface.

"If you look at how we design the service end-to-end, we learned from that last year of usability," Unangst told Ars. "Gamers wanted the interface to be more Windows-like. It should be easy to navigate with a mouse and keyboard; it should look like a Windows application." The new interface is more tightly integrated into the game, making it not only more pleasing to the eye but also more functional. Improved speed of the interface and better access to options will make the new interface far better than the current one.

Also planned to land with the update is a new standalone version of the Games For Windows Live client, which was previously only accessible when actually in a GFWL game. "We will have an out-of-game client [with the fall update]," Unangst foretold. "Expect to see that through the Vista Game Explorer, or running on the task-bar. We want it to be as discoverable as possible."

The now-free Games for Windows Live service is starting to quickly get us slightly more excited about the prospect of engaging in a Microsoft-based PC gaming portal. With the advent of the Games For Windows Live Marketplace and more visibility to the portal for Vista users, it seems that Microsoft may finally be in the position to take some of the thunder away from its competitors in the PC gaming portal space.

Straight shooters: low divergence semiconductor lasers

Semiconductor lasers are uniquely suited to a variety of applications because they have extremely high efficiency compared to other laser media and can be designed to produce a wide range of wavelengths. One of the major disadvantages of semiconductor lasers that has limited their application is their inherently high divergence. HangZhou Night Net

Theoretically, laser output propagates in precisely the same direction over the entire cross section of the beam and remains perfectly parallel until it is scattered. However, the realities of defective materials and diffraction causes the beam to spread out as it propagates; the measure of the angle over which the beam spreads is termed its divergence. In this week's Nature Photonics, researchers from Harvard and Hamamatsu photonics demonstrate a beam-shaping technique that results in a 25 times less divergence from an edge-emitting quantum cascade laser (QCL).

In this work, the output of the quantum cascade laser is coupled to the surface plasmon modes of a metal. The best way to imagine this is that the light output of the laser gets converted into electron oscillations on the surface of the metal that behave a lot like the original laser light. As the plasmons move down the metal surface, they get scattered by patterned grooves in the metal surface. By adjusting the spacing, thickness, and depth of the grooves, the plasmon scattering can be controlled so that all of the energy scattered out of the beam undergoes destructive interference, resulting in a highly collimated beam. Photonic crystals guide light by the same principle.

A good analogy of this process is diffraction in reverse. Diffraction occurs when a wave moving in one direction is scattered by an object and produces a diverging set of waves not unlike the ripples from a stone thrown into water. In almost all scientific applications, diffraction occurs when a collimated or coherent electromagnetic beam interacts with a small scattering object—this effect is put to good use in X-ray diffraction and demonstrations of the wave nature of light like Young's famous two slit experiment. However the time reversal symmetry inherent to all physical laws tells us that this process can just as easily happen in reverse; we just do not typically have the right conditions to diffract diverging radiation into a collimated beam.

While this technique is an excellent demonstration of the power of plasmonics and metamaterials, it is severely limited by the fact that it only works in one dimension and only with edge-emitting semiconductor lasers. Three dimensional metallic grids offer hope of greater versatility, but they may be prohibitively complicated to produce.

Nature Photonics DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2008.152 10.1038/nphoton.2008.152

Mole attack: 360 price cuts on all hardware in September

It's hard to describe what it's like to wake up with a knife between your teeth. You try to spit, because the taste of steel makes you think you've bitten down on your tongue and you're tasting the bitter copper of your blood, but the blade keeps your lips peeled apart. You can't scream, because if you pull your facial muscles taut you'll only get cut worse. I took a deep breath, and saw a once-familiar face, now hideous. HangZhou Night Net

"Do you want to know how I got these scars?" the mole asked me. I was too scared to nod. "Well, my employer is a drinker, and a fiend. One day he found out that I was giving information to a certain gaming writer, and he didn't like that. NOT. ONE. BIT."

I started shaking.

"So he went into the other room and got a knife, and said one thing to me: WHY SO SERIOUS? Then he got to work," the mole told me, and suddenly he was cutting into my forehead. I screamed.

Soon, he was gone, and all I had, carved into my skin, was the pricing schedule of the Xbox 360. It's information I will now share with you:

Early Sept price reduction on X360 hardware:
Arcade (no hard drive) to $199Pro (60GB) to $299 Elite (120GB) to $399

We should also expect hardware and game bundles for all hardware versions coming in the fourth quarter, just in time for the holidays.

In addition, the mole revealed that the upcoming release of Forza 2 Platinum Hits will include all the DLC tracks that were made for the title, which is a good way to add value to the game.

The last time the mole talked to me, before he became a super-villain, he told me the 60GB model of the hardware was coming, and he was right on the money with that one. Those prices should be considered rumors, but I'd be very surprised if this wasn't accurate information. Very sexy pricing.

PlayStation Store Update: fall from Eden edition

July goes out with the release of PixelJunk Eden via the PlayStation Store. Other highlights from this week include a demo of Facebreaker and some new content for the recently released Soulcalibur IV. Check it out: HangZhou Night Net

GamesPS3: PixelJunk Eden ($9.99): A dreamy "platformer" from the makers of PixelJunk Monsters, Eden demands attention thanks to its unique gameplay mechanics and stunning visual and aural presentation.DemosPS3: Lego Indiana JonesPS3: Madden NFL 09PS3: FaceBreaker Add-onsPS3: Rock Band tracks ($1.99 per song): "This is it" by Staind, "They Say" by Scars on Broadway, and "Electric Crown" by Testament rickroll this week's music update.PS3: Rock Band "Yomp" by thenewno2 track ($0.99)PS3: Soulcalibur IV: Customization Equipment ($1.49): A pack of character customization items drawing from the pool of pre-existing equipment on characters like Sophitia, Astaroth, Nightmare, and Voldo. MusicSoulcalibur IV downloadable music ($0.99 per track, $14.99 album): Enjoy the music from Soulcalibur IV with this digital album. VideosPS3: The Last Guy trailer, Bionic Commando Rearmed Making of #2 video, and more.Wallpapers and ThemesPS3: Killzone 2, PixelJunk Eden theme, Street Fighter IV wallpaper, and more.

We've been waiting a while to get our hands on the retail version of PixelJunk Eden, so look forward to some hands-on impressions. Also, make sure to give Facebreaker a shot: you may wind up being pleasantly surprised. If you want something to skip, though, miss the Soulcalibur content. What's the point in making your create-a-character look exactly like the pre-existing characters in the game? Believe me, once you play the game for a while, you'll probably end up ditching your custom character anyway.