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Leveling the playing field #5 — Open Access

Leveling the playing field #5 — Open Access

4/18/02 4:01 PM

Leveling the Playing Field #5 By Dave Olson Free the Internet! — Open Access

There are many ways for you to get an Internet connection to your home, office or wherever. What you likely don’t realize is the morass of politics, tariffs and such-nense that goes on behind the scenes in order to provide a high-speed digital data link to your house.

Indeed, it is often a double-edged sword as laws that were made to de-construct Telco monopolies often hinder the progress of open-access. The accepted standards aren’t necessarily driven by the best technology and consumer- demand but rather by what the Telcos lobby for and decide to release (often based on the benefit to the bottom line).

As is the normal custom in this column, we will glance into the past somewhat to get a sense of how we got where we are now.

First, the Legal Stuff

In 1984 a major anti-trust suit was settled between AT&T (Ma Bell) and the US Dept. of Justice by the signing of a “consent decree” breaking up the entrenched phone monopoly. The rulings were presided over by the now infamous Judge Harold Green (may his tortured soul rest in peace). Part of his ruling distinguishes new Competing Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs, such as MCI) from the Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs.) ILECs are most frequently the former chunks of AT&T (known as the “Baby Bells”) who have enjoyed a 100 years of nursing from the mighty bosum of their guaranteed monopoly for years. However, many “mom and pop” local telephone carriers, such as Yelm Telephone Company, also qualify as ILECs, since they have been providing local service since before the date of the consent-decree breakup.

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As an “essential public utility,” Telco franchises are regulated and supervised by the Washington Utilities and Telecommunications Commission & the Federal Communications Commission. All actions involving service and rates undertaken by an essential public utility (such as US West) must be approved by WUTC whose job it is to ensure fair and equal access for all. Part of these regulations say that the ILEC has to provide quality, equitable service in each area in it’s territory, regardless of geographic location or perceived economic potential. If they will not provide this level of service they must dismiss that market, in which case it is made available by bid to other phone companies. This opened the doors for competition.

This industry “de-regulation” begat the introduction of regional CLECs. With fewer regulations and often times more progressive business leadership, some of these companies have moved in to areas to compete with US West by offering either whole suites of phone/data services or just DSL. This is much like what happened with pager and cellular networks a few years ago, suddenly there were a whole bunch of companies.

Some the companies are “facilities-based” which means they have equipment, switches, circuits, routers, Network Operations Center etc. Others are re-sellers in that they buy bulk access from ILECs or other CLEC providers to re-sell. These lines are purchased and resold in many forms, including local dialtone, high-speed T1 lines for business and multiple tenant buildings, alarm circuit lines, for alarm and system monitoring, and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) for high speed digital Internet access and packetized voice and long distance.

All of these companies however are to some degree held hostage by ILEC phone carriers (in our area, US West) when attempting to deploy their services as the ILEC “controls” the lines going into the houses. Because they “own” the facilities used to provide service by all carriers, it is possible for an unscrupulous ILEC to interfere with CLEC’s ability to provide lines for DSL, and maintain a high quality of service.

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Now, the Technical Stuff

DSL was really developed in around 1986 when engineers found they could “piggy-back” a hi-speed data signal along the existing copper infrastructure. This is accomplished by using the higher frequencies of the available radio spectrum. The telephone network only uses the lowest part of the radio spectrum to transmit our normal voice and modem conversations.

Because a traditional T1 can cost up to $1000/mo., US West had very little financial incentive to deploy with this low-cost DSL service to new market segments at a lower cost. Instead, they used the DSL technologies to lower their own cost for providing T1 and fractional T1 data services, thus increasing their margin. Couple this with a hundred year plus corporate business culture created by AT&T’s monopoly, and you get USWest’s (and other ILEC phone companies) failure to see the Internet coming. They were unwilling to utilize any of the technologies they helped to invent to lower access costs and increase availability to the aforementioned “revolutionary” computer network. Instead they watched for years as regular folks suffered with dial-up modem, BBS, and Internet access and businesses coughed up big money for 56K and T1 connections. It wasn’t until small ISPs started coming up like “week-old bean sprouts in a deadhead’s kitchen” and taking control of this new economic opportunity that the entrenched former-monopoly ILECs finally saw the light and decided to start providing a lower cost, low margin high-speed access solution to consumers utilizing DSL.

Once the market opened up to other CLECs who’s sole business plan was to build and deploy DSL networks, US West began sensing possible competition and moved forward with their consumer DSL product. To their credit, they have been one of the ILEC leaders in bring this product forward, driving the market with their innovation.

An oddball issue with the Judge Green’s phone company

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breakup ruling is that is the ILECs can’t carry voice or data across LATA (Local Area Telephone Access) boundaries. This rule was designed to prevent ILECs from being both the local and the long-distance company. You can see what the Judge was getting at but this is somewhat like asking someone to pass a note along to someone else even though they are sitting right next to you.

In the case of an ISP, if you want to a install a T1 line to a new market which is outside of our LATA (let’s say Spokane),

you have to use a 3rd party vendor to transfer your data from US West to US West. The reason being that US West, being an ILEC can’t offer both the Local and the Long Distance services. Confused? Sure, especially when you realize you almost have to buy the phone lines from US West but also go through the “technically unnecessary” coordination time and

rd expense of contracting with a 3 party and co-locating a

router in their data facilities, wherever they may be.

Indeed on Snoqualmie pass where the LATA boundary is, AT&T maintains a fairly involved facility which takes data from US West customers coming from the from the west of the pass and hands it off to US West lines headed East. And yes, the consumer (in this example, an ISP) pays AT&T a mighty fee for this service.

Two Pieces of the Pie

You must understand that Internet access through a DSL line consists of two parts, both necessary.

Part one is the phone circuit magic that the telco (US West) does which allows this digital signal to be carried along your phone line. Part two is ISP stuff, packet services, basically the routers, and servers to send and receive your requests over the Internet and stuff like e-mail account and web page hosting.

When US West first began to released this service, they had to go through a series of tariff hearings with the WUTC who held them to task to ensure competition thanks to aggressive

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lobbying and testifying by members of the ISP business community. USWest; sensing the regulatory agencies would not allow them to provide the whole enchilada (Phone and ISP), not allowing any other ISPs to compete with them using their own services, came up with a plan that allowed ISPs and other large businesses to provide the data portion of the service. The details were worked out between the regulators, the lobbyists, and USWest, (who is euphemistically referred to in WUTC hearings as “The Company”,) providing a set of rules and guidelines that ensured that the incumbent monopoly USWest would play fair and level.

Because US West already controls the phone service, allowing them to be an exclusive provider of what is essentially a public resource, would be devastating for the pricing and quality of the service. One of the remaining problems is that US West is slow to provide service to areas which aren’t targeted as population-dense and profit-rich.

Some new providers aim to provide services to locations that USWest won’t. Example: to get the DSL service, your phone line must travel no more than 3 miles physical loop length to the phone Central Office (CO) where there is a piece of equipment called a DSLAM. So first US West tests to see if your line “qualifies.”

If yes, you can get aDSL or xDSL. Speeds ranging from 256kbps to 1.5Mbps., depending on your loop length and the use of repeaters Because of the asynchronous nature of DSL that speed is always available for upload, (and you may find that you get much faster speeds downloading).

In you don’t qualify, all hope is not lost. Behold iDSL, which is DSL technology delivered over ISDN lines, which is possible up to a seven-mile phone loop length. ISDN, which stands for Integrated Services Digital Network is an older means for providing digital service over phone lines, but the phone companies, reeling for years following the breakup of Ma Bell, did not widely deploy this product, due to poor marketing and pricing decisions.

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CLEC DSL providers offer iDSL service in areas US West won’t. The problem is that the pricing and service are a drag. Again because the ILEC monopoly has control over the lines and has a distinct advantage in accessing the lines and the customers. Because CLECs can’t provision lines, install equipment in US West facilities and provide timely connections, these other companies offering iDSL, often garner a very poor reputation. Again, in this scenario consumers lose.

Now about the Cable Modem Thing

Cable modems are a whole different ball of goo. Since Cable TV deregulation, it is overseen primarily by the city and county governments who negotiate with Cable companies to allow usage or “right of way” along the roads, poles and into the house. Each municipality or local government negotiates its own “franchise agreement”, and has complete control. In this area TCI has the contract which has carried over with their recent acquisition by AT&T. There are also not as stringent “standards of quality” with Cable as with electricity or phone, although some cable consumer groups have started pushing a “Cable Subscriber Bill of Rights”. Because of the “one way” nature of cable, and the lack of real competition, most cable companies build their networks cheap and planning only for the short term so they can get more customers, enhance the bottom line, stock share value, etc.

When TCI/AT&T launched their @home cable modem service, they decided to not allow any other ISPs to provide access using what they consider “their” cable network. The thing with cable modems is, unlike DSL, the connection “node” is shared and the upload is vastly different from the download. So if 10% of your neighborhood has @home service and are all on at once (likely around prime time 5- 10pm) your speeds will slow to near modem-esque. Since the upload spectrum for cable modems is narrrow and susceptible to radio frequency interference, cable modems are not well suited as servers because the traffic is going “upstream”. However the download speeds on cable modems when not congested can be wicked good.

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A few things you’ll notice in the near future:

AOL/Time Warner think “It’s not the Connection that matters, it’s the Content”

AOL is the McDonalds of the Internet (certainly not premium quality but convenient, well marketed, heavily-funded). Used to be that to use AOL’s content, chat rooms etc., you had to use AOL’s dial-up service. They do have numbers in most every city but the modem to user ratio was poor resulting in busy signals and slow-downs. (You may remember the horrible service when they went flat rate and a few million people signed on, flooding the system and delaying/denying access for millions more.)

In the wake of the AOL / Time Warner merger, the new entity has announced that the “content business” is more important to them the “connection business”. In other words, they want to sell their content (Warner Brothers cartoons for example) and they don’t really care how you connect. Users can pick most any ISP and connect to the AOL/Time Warner service via their DSL, Cable modem, T1, Dial-up, wireless, etc.

Yes Folks, Tacoma is a high-tech city

Click! Network in Tacoma is a unique and very practical case study for open access and the good that can come out of public/private partnerships. Along with Ashland, Oregon, this is the first of its kind. The city utility has spent {Dr. Evil Voice} “100 million dollars” to build out a state-of-the-art Fiber Optic Cable (Radio Frequency) network.

Designed to be a multi-purpose communications link, the wire is fiber-coax hybrid, quad-shielded for protection from the elements or stray electrical disturbances. The coolest is that they just want to be the utility, not the ISP. Hence they are partnering with various local ISPs to allow consumers a choice. Tacoma City will make money on this (they already have the lowest util rates around), the Consumers will have a

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choice of Cable/Internet or both as well as a choice of ISP & programming and several local ISPs will have the opportunity to make some cake too.

Our local cities/county should look at this example and the Click! Network people would be happy to tell our policy- makers how to do it, how much it costs, how to build it, how to pay for it. Heck, one less reason to not move to Tacoma.

Qwest / USWest continue to be confused

Qwest USWest merger could do a few things, improve (or not un-improve) US West’s service and make things weird for current Qwest long distance customers since customers in US West areas will not be able to use Qwest long distance.

The new company (they will probably come up with some weird new name, oh yeah “Qwest” is already weird) will make a lot of commercials explaining how this confusion is an improvement (and give away free caller id boxes to everyone they piss off along the way).

Perhaps many customers will switch to CLECs during this period (especially when you hear the US West execs who are quitting are getting like 20 million dollar bonuses).

Phone Company Mania

So you as a consumer may want to enjoy your new found freedom of choice. You have likely noticed billboards, trucks and newspaper ads for a few new CLECs in town. Some of these want to provide home dial-tone, some sell bundled package which may include dial-tone, DSL, long distance, webhosting, e-mail service all on one bill.

Whoa, sounds good but choose carefully, make sure they are “facilities-based” and have local humans to talk to if you have a problem. If you going to change, phone companies, you might as well improve your service and get your service

I guess you call them “Media Communications” companies

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Right now, the Telephone, Cable and ISP industries are courting and trying to carve partnerships, market niche and race off to IPO so it is a little confusing with all the mergers and hype. That being said, the future looks pretty good for consumers and that is the important thing.

Yes Dave Olson does work for an ISP and has spent months trying to make sense of this kinda stuff. Usually he just asks his colleague Jay when the questions are really difficult. Dave uses a USWest DSL connection & phone line, a DirecTV satellite dish, and AT&T cable TV so he has myriad vested interest in Telco/Cable/ISP/Content companies all getting along so he can be entertained. He remains daveo@olywa.net.

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Leveling the Playing Field #2 — MP3

Leveling the Playing Field #2 — MP3

4/18/02 4:05 PM

Leveling the Playing Field #2 Dave Olson The real lowdown on Mp3 downloads

You’ve likely heard of Mp3, haven’t you? Mp3 is a compression/encoding standard which allows near-CD quality duplication of audio files at a fraction of the size. Because the files are much smaller than regular CD audio files, they are fairly easily transferred over the Internet or burnt onto homemade CDs. Convenient? Yes indeed. Legal? Well that depends.

Before getting into the fun, revolutionary part and the technical portion, we must first look at some historical precedents so we can figure out the legal ramifications of this brave new format.

When I was a kid and there was a song on the radio that I liked, I would cue up an 8-track or cassette tape into the home and wait for the song to come on again. Then, I quickly hit the pause button to start recording, albeit missing the first few seconds. Legal? The courts figured this out when TV broadcasters were complaining about VCRs on the market and Yes you can record a commercial public broadcast for personal use, even if the quality is poor.

As I got older, I had a hard time deciding whether to buy new music on vinyl or cassette. The vinyl often had a fold-out cover, lyrics and pictures, plus vinyl was “permanent.” The problem was, I couldn’t play the album in my Walkman or boom-box. So I usually would buy the record and then record it on a 3 for $.99 cassette tape for portable use. Legal? Sure I had the right by purchasing the album to make a back-up copy, as long as I didn’t make recordings for friends or sale. Realistically though, haven’t we all made a copy of a tape for a friend in our errant youth . . . ?

Later, I started trading live tapes of bands whom allow their fans to record their performances. Mailing cassettes around

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the world or trading amongst friends in exchange for others is a safe and economical way to enjoy unique music and not support major labels at the same time. Legal? Sure, plus since it is a “free” product, no one can sell them successfully. So, since there is no black market, no one is making money unethically off the artists (now if we could just do something about bootleg t-shirts).

Nowadays, I pull down music from the Internet to the iMac or PC at the house via an Internet connection (in my case, a high-speed DSL line). I listen to this music over the network, which is wired through the home stereo. When the hard drive gets full, I burn it on to CD. I also occasionally take CDs I own and “rip” them to Mp3 and store them on my computer or on the network allowing me to have a huge music library available anytime I care to listen to something. Legal? Wellllll . . . . More on this later. Onward to technical issues . . .

Unlike a normal audio CD, you can’t stick an Mp3 CD into your regular CD player. Also unlike a regular audio CD, you can fit about 650 minutes of MP3 music onto one 650 MB CD. So, if you are for example a Tom Waits fan, you could capture and encode his whole discography onto an Mp3 CD, except for those really weird noisy songs you don’t really like. This CD is then playable via any computer with a CD player and a simple and free Mp3 player (which are widely available via web).

To play this game, first you’ll need an Internet connection. A fast one is particularly useful as a dial-up connection is an exercise in patience or an overnight project at least. Mp3s are about 1MB per 1 min. so tracks are usually 4 MB minimum, this makes for much longer download times. New broadband options such as DSL or cable allow you to download several hours of music, quickly and reliably each evening. With a dedicated DSL line, you can also set up a server allowing you to access your music remotely (yeah!) from wherever you are or allow your friends to connect and exchange files.

Next on the preparation list — software. Winamp and Macamp will do valiantly for most of your playing and even encoding

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needs. There are also other encoders and/or rippers which offer more features and conveniences such as connecting to the CDDB (CD Database) to index and name your files and even supply a copy of the cover art — bit more on this later.

Along with the WinAmp / MacAmp, Music Match Jukebox is good full-featured application for converting audio files for the PC and MPecker works fine for the Mac, with a range of quality levels. As for these encoding rates which determine the quality, 128kbps is the usual rate, although for streaming radio uses, lower is adequate, whereas for archival quality live shows or the like, 256kbps is great although the finished filesize is larger than at 128k. Real.com makes a product called Real Jukebox which allows you to organize and play your Mp3, I don’t use it but you might.

Besides the players and encoders, you can also download skins and/or kits for making the “skins,” which modify the appearance of the playing controls, which include an equalizer. I know personally that my listening experience is enhanced when using the Anna Kournikova motif interface. The Windows skins are only rectangular but are easier to make than the Mac ones which allow more flexibility with shape and design but are harder to create. Also for the Mac, I recommend downloading a utility called MacAmp AutoTyper which fixes many of the naming snafus which often accompany moving files from ISO (Win/DOS) naming to Mac for whatever reason. www.eskimo.com/~pristine has plenty of Mac software for you.

Hardware-wise, large amount of space and storage are key if you wish to collect Mp3s. Big (9 Gig +) hard-drives are the norm now and cost under $200. No matter how much hard- drive space you have, you will fill it eventually, right? If you are wise, you will also consider a good quality CD burner. I like the external SCSI kind because then I can move it between both PC and Mac, depending on the project. The CD burner will likely come with some software, either way, acquire “Toast” which allows you to easily assemble the files to put on your CD. You basically organize all the stuff you want on the CD in folders, (make sure you have the names how you want them cause there’s no changing), choose what

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kind of CD you are making (eg: PC, Mac or a duplication of a regular audio CD). Then insert CD, press go, wait 20 minutes — ding, just like a TV Dinner. You can also get CD burners which “re-record”, mine does but I never use this feature.

Who puts the music up there? Sometimes you know but most often you don’t. Many sites are providing a forum for unsigned bands to post their music for others to download and some sites even make Mp3 CDs which they distribute to their subscribers, whereas others are just repositories of pirated music mostly posted by teenagers on “free” temporary websites or wild goose chases of ftp logins and passwords, banner ads, pop-up windows, spam, yech.

So how best to find these chunks of music? You can search the Web, in fact some major search engines (eg: www.hotbot.com) allow you to search specifically for Mp3. There are also search engines which search only for Mp3 or Warez (pirated software). As is status-quo with search engines, this method often turns up poorly made, amateur sites which just have bunch of crap that is played on cheese- pop radio anyhow.

There are however fine web sites which serve up Dead, Phish, String Cheese Incident and other jam bands shows via ftp from your web browser, which allows for a great combination of speed and ease of use . Because these bands encourage people to tape the shows, you can find top-quality recordings, plus these taper-types are quite particular about ensuring the quality of encodings, as well as adding show/set lists, musicians and other info about the show in a text file along with the set. Some sites are “official” band sites, (eg: www.primussucks.com) but the best ones are usually run by fans. A worthy example is www.astrojams.com which has selections from a variety of jamming bands.

In this same spirit of cooperation is the CDDB, an on-line database that keeps a digital “thumbprint” of most any album so you can look up song lengths, tracknames, musicians etc. The best part is that it is all user-supplied content so anyone can add a new cd to the directory. More user served content

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is found by using a web-like browser from Mp3spy.com which has a real-time directory of streaming Mp3 servers currently broadcasting, along with detailed info about quality, stream rate etc. This is very neat.

Another way to find music is sites like www.mp3.com which offer an advertising based service to unsigned artists and host their music at the site and allow music fans to sample and download music. They even have a periodic CD which they distribute to subscribers/users. Remember, because of the compact size of Mp3 a CD is about 10 hrs of music, so even if you don’t care for most of it, there’s likely a few tracks you’ll enjoy. More and more smaller labels and radio stations are following this same premise and are posting full song samples for free non-commercial download to entice fans to purchase the whole commercial album on CD or vinyl.

Some artists have taken this step further and are now distributing their music independently of their labels via web- sites. Most famous of these is “the Artist formerly known as the Toad” (or Prince). He sells his wares via web for cheap because there is no hard-costs (CD blank, packaging, shipping, advertising). It’s heavy on the profit so you don’t need to sell a million when 100,000 copies makes you the same money. The problem with “le Artiste” is no one can find his site because they don’t have his character on the keyboard.

Major labels are, of course, slower to embrace this technology which is somewhat ironic (don’t cha think) since record labels were at first very excited about the Internet as a toll to promote their artists and nurture fan bases by having tour updates, chats and interviews. Sure, a couple years ago, when it took close to an hour to download a crappy sounding :45 clip, the record companies thought the Internet was a great advertising system. The industry even tolerated Real Player streaming technology because it doesn’t really allow the user to download and duplicate high-quality copies of the music, but now that both artists and music fans (consumers) are clamoring for more flexible distribution channels, the labels are trying to figure this all out. One avenue will be partnering (or building) high-profile web sites,

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basically creating immediate delivery CD stores. These already exist in various forms but the record industry still thinks the whole idea of Mp3 is an evil scourge that must be stopped before their expense accounts are frozen but since Columbia House just bought on-line retailer CDnow.com, the labels are hedging their bets indeed.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with an A&R guy (with sunglasses pushed up on his head and everything) from Columbia/Sony at my cousin, <namedrop>Tal Bachman’s </namedrop> promo gig in Seattle a few months back. The Label guy said that, “. . . until there is a way for Internet users to easily download and copy CD-quality music in a reasonable amount of time, we don’t have anything to worry about, and that is still years away.” Years away in Bangladesh maybe, but not here. I told him about Mp3 and that I had conveniently downloaded Tal’s entire album in 20 minutes (but quickly threw it away when I heard that wussy- girly pop).

So where is the best source for finding music? Don’t tell anyone but the answer is Usenet. You may be familiar with Newsgroups which used to be a much used Internet service staple as it allowed a bulletin-board-like posting of messages to topic-specific, semi-structured groups where thousands of people could read and reply to your post in a threaded discussion. This was especially popular for technical support type stuff as well as genealogy and adoption inquires since it initiated broad conversation with the power of the masses in the answers. As the web became more prevalent, newsgroups, while still useful for tech support and academic inquires, became a wasteland of nonsense and perverts with the rise of the alt. category which was basically a ranting and raving free for all.

Recently Usenet is becoming an essential Internet service again since users realized that large binary files could be split up and posted anonymously on a newsgroup where thousands could download, combine the parts and de-code the file whether it be pirated software, fake pictures of naked celebrities or Mp3s. Newsgroups are like garage sales; lots of stuff to sort through, easy to get distracted, easy to get too much stuff, sometimes nothing good to get.

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Software-wise, the choice is easy, Agent (or it’s free but not full-featured version, “Free Agent”) for Windows and/or NewsWatcher for the Mac OS. Either will allow you download and combine or split up and upload to newsgroups. Takes a bit of learning (but so do garage sales). I will not tell you the names of the newsgroups which hold the motherlodes but remember the words: alt., binaries, mp3 and you should be alright. If you are used to an easy-to-use, graphical user environment, Newsgroups will wig you out at first since you’ll get a list of like 100,000 “articles” which are, is our case, 100,000 songs to sort through. Whew, hang in there, you’ll learn how to tame it. If you are a music fan, it will be worth it.

So there are obviously some legal issues to tie this back in to my historical precedent spiel earlier. With all this music floating around in cyber-space, what is legal and ethical use of music and what is infringing on an artist’s right to make royalties off album sales and airplay?

The short answer is you cannot publicly play published music without a license or permission, which usually means paying ASCAP & BMI. Further, you cannot duplicate or distribute recorded music without specific permission from the label, or whoever is the copyright holder. ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN, and others administrate the royalties for songwriters by licensing commercial radio stations and bars to play these published songs. But, in copying files and posting them to the Internet, you have done nothing wrong per se because you can legally make a back-up for personal use, just like vinyl/ cassette example above.

At the other end the line, some anonymous person who downloads the songs and listens to them isn’t a criminal either because you have the right to hear music before you decide if you want to purchase the album. Or do you? It is like our off the radio recording example above, isn’t it?

So if no one is committing a real “crime”, why is there clearly an infringement? Clearly no royalties are being paid to the songwriter and artist either from publishing or album revenue, so something is amiss. Arrgh . . . too many gray areas!

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Copying CDs and reselling them is clearly illegal (although it is also a cornerstone of the Chinese economy), so we as music listeners must respect the artist’s rights and buy the CD if you listen to it. In fact, I purchased the newest Buffalo Tom CD after downloading a few songs “illegally” that were so good, I purchased the rights to listen to it by spending the bread on the CD.

In short — if you are moderately consuming for personal use, and not dealing, no punishment is necessary.

The radio market will also change much with the advent of streaming Shoutcast server, which is like an “instant radio station”, often with higher quality than is available through antenna broadcasts. Music publishing companies are finally starting to wake up to this monolith and are allegedly working on Internet specific licensing plans based on revenues since Internet radio-stations are clearly a different beast than traditional radio. While the big corporations try to figure it out, smaller indie labels and artists have a great chance to seize a waiting (and huge) audience by overcoming these profit- sharing issues equitably. Fortunately, there is thousands of hours of music that fans can enjoy without hassles since bands can now easily post their own high quality music for potential labels, booking agents, venues and fans to listen to. Legal? Indeed.

What’s next for Mp3 format aside from legal squabbling? Well, the technology will continue to become better and heck, it may even be supplanted by another compression scheme, who knows. Although we do know that the Wal-Mart of the Internet, AOL, has invested heavily by buying Mp3.com and Nullsoft who are the creators of Winamp software.

Another trend as these technical issues and licensing stuff gets worked out, is Mp3 devices will certainly get more portable. Car Mp3 decks (made in U.K. toa void US legal hassles) and Walkman-like devices are on the immediate horizon. It is worth noting that there is a device called a Rio that is a portable Mp3 player that is on the market now, albeit somewhat low-quality and over-priced for now.

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As for me, my needs are simple, I’m just happy knowing that when I go on a business trip with a laptop, I can conveniently carry the whole Tragically Hip discography on my hard-drive to entertain myself while on the plane or hotel.

<plug>

To get you started on adding to your Mp3 collection is www.hempenroad.com This promotional site for a film project has several soundtrack songs in Mp3 format, plus links to get the software.

</plug>

A fine page that has everything to do about music and yet has no music on it is Mike Watt’s www.hootpage.com This is great for many reasons, including the fact that he makes it himself and while it isn’t fancy, the design is clean and works well. Content-wise, the site is a treat. He has location- specific downloadable posters for the upcoming “Searchin’ the Shed for Pliers” tour, a virtual tour of his Econoline van, pictures of all his “Thud Staffs” plus stories and pics from recording sessions (including “Sidemousin’ the Bong” with great action photos.) Check it out (and you should also see Mike Watt live).

Dave Olson writes this article primarily to impress the ladies with his knowledge, wit and good taste. He is also an Internet professional at OlyWa.Net and Internet Adventures.

Upcoming articles will include: “Internet & Hockey”, “How the adult industry drives technology”, and “Christmas shopping in bed”. Suggestions, etc.? daveo@olywa.net

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Leveling the Playing Field #4 — Hemp Activism

Leveling the Playing Field #4 — Hemp Activism

4/18/02 4:04 PM

Leveling the Playing Field #4 By Dave Olson Hemp Activism on the Internet

Used to be, if an event like WTO rolled around, I would have been right excited about it. But now I have realized that my activist efforts are better served from the comfort of my couch.

Let’s get a few things clear right off the bat so you aren’t confused about what I am saying here. Sure, those who suffered gassings and police nonsense in Seattle were indeed courageous, and I agree that direct action is needed to stir-up the complacency, personally I have swapped in the placards, cold mornings and handcuffs for a warm beverage and iMac keyboard to make my opinion heard by policy- makers.

Before you start cussing, I do have activist and blockade credentials from the Clayoquot blockades on Vancouver Island and in early nineties I stood the line at the nuclear test sites in Nevada and committed plenty of acts of creative eco- terrorism throughout the four corners area. Heck, I have met Allen Ginsberg, chatted with Edward Abbey and been to Moab before Lycra bike shorts were allowed. Verily, even Gary Snyder knows who I am.

But these days, instead of yelling and cutting down billboards, I “protest” using my couch and the prolific publishing medium of the Internet. Like a modern-day fleet of Guttenbergs, web servers can publish and disseminate information in a reliable and efficient manner, 24/7, in full color to a worldwide audience. Another reason web-sites are such a great tool for activist groups is that printing and postage is a major expense of most any non-profit organization’s budget (not to mention the environmental impact and the labor time to assemble such mailings).

The Internet is full of worthy examples of activist organization

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lobbying their legislators and producing accredited documentation to support their cause rather than alienating the “common man” with acts of urban mayhem. The Hemp Cannabis legalization itself movement makes for a fine case study.

Used to be in the early 80’s and the “birth of the modern hemp movement,” information about this mysterious “hemp” plant was disseminated on leaflets, poorly produced and non-accredited books, and occasionally incorrect but well- intentioned factoids passed along at Grange halls, Grateful Dead shows and yearly political rallies. It was a start and indeed the technology of the time didn’t permit much more sophisticated self-publications than Jack Herer’s book, “The Emperor wears no Clothes.”

Today’s activists distribute information on sites like www.crrh.org which features dozens of video film clips, a Hemp “Jeopardy” trivia game (I got a perfect score), TV and radio re-broadcasts and more. This fine site was donated to Campaign of Regulation and Re-legalization of Hemp by a San Francisco web design firm who liberally sprinkled chunks Macromedia Flash throughout.

In 1997, I attended the first stand-alone symposium on Commercial Industrial Hemp at the fabulous Canada Place in Vancouver B.C., while working a documentary film about Hemp. This was also the first time I saw a crew doing a real- time audio simulcast over the Internet to paying customers all over the world. The symposium was physically attended by hundreds of qualified delegates from around the world, but coupled with the power of the Internet, hundreds more were able to be educated. Parts of the symposium were used in the video itself. Some video clips and audio tracks can be enjoyed at www.hempenroad.com, but the whole deal will soon be available in Real Video format at www.hemp.ca (which is under construction but aims to be a portal for the hemp industry in Canada and the Pacific Rim).

When the government runs rampant, flagrantly breaking it’s own laws or stealthily making new ones, speed of communication is an essential ally to prepare an effective

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protest. A good example of this is the recent DEA Hemp Embargo in which the DEA over stepped their jurisdiction and instructed the US Customs to seize a truck shipment of food- grade hemp seed.

The hemp was legally grown in Canada to exacting specifications regarding THC content (3% max.) and was en- route to a food processor in California who manufactures and distributes energy bars until the illegal embargo. (Learn more about this year’s Canadian and other hemp crops at www.kenex.org, www.hempline.com).

Right away, www.hemplobby.org published articles about this fiasco on a searchable database-driven web library as news was received from various media sources and concerned parties including embassies, lawyers, farmers, US Customs and business people. The result of the quick access to accurate information was the DEA had to release the seeds and let them on their way.

Hemplobby also sends out mass e-mails to members, politicians and media sources, announcing new postings to the article library. From a web site design production standpoint, because the articles are added via a password- protected web interface, it beats formatting each article in < html>, linking it in manually and ftp’ing up to the server.

Another very useful project that www.hemplobby.org published on the web is a .pdf booklet called “Practical Guide to Cannabis.” This booklet full fo of legislative bills, crop reports, grow guides and application studies of Industrial Hemp, was distributed in (hemp) paper form to dozens of policy makers and government agency heads. For the activists and curious folks world-wide, the Adobe Portable Document Format allowed easy download while retaining the layout and integrity of the printed version so they could easily distribute to others.

Even more so since Woody Harrelson got arrested in Kentucky for planting industrial hemp, cannabis issues have emerged as a popular topic for thesis, reports and science

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fair projects. Fortunately, there exists a plethora of resources to fill you bibliography.

A great example of a (a rather self-indulgent example) is the evolution first web site I ever made originally called “Hemp in Japan.” This research proejct started for me while in Japan working as a mushroom farmer (no not that kind) in Tottori- ken and Nagano-ken. I kept finding cultural references to hemp — in town names, paintings, paper, poetry, etc. I started to gather pictures and notes and after returning to North America a few years later, I made an on-line “scrapbbok of all the stuff I had collected. Turns out others were researching the same kinda topic so eventually this all grew into www.Taima.org, (“taima” means cannabis in japanese). Now the site boasts the findings and stories of many along with heaps of pics of all sorts. The site is slowly being translated into Japanese as well which should help continue to increase the thousands of user who stop by per month from around Asia and the world.

My research article “Hempen Culture in Japan” was excerpted in a book called Hemp Horizons, the publisher’s web site, www.hemptech.com offers many scientific and agricultural based books.

A while later, the fine Vancouver based magazine, www.CannabisCulture.com published it as their cover story. Their site features the first couple years issues on-line as well as grow tips and a section I particularly like, Budbabes. CC magazine’s publisher Marc Emery also has a site www.emeryseeds.com at which he will help you “Overgrow the Government” by purchasing high-quality genetics to start your own garden. Sorta the gray area of protest but hey, something has got to finance the revolution.

There are a few Hemp/Internet companies worthy of note. www.Hemp.net is a Seattle ISP offering shell, dial-up or DSL to activist/customers. The Hemp.Net web site is an interesting amalgamation of tech support, legal challenge and calls to action. Hemp.net distributes several mailing lists specifically about Hemp legalization in Wa. State. You’ll find mass e-mail forms to send your peace to legislators and

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editors.

www.hempseed.com is based in NYC and have positioned themselves as an Internet resource for the hemp industry. They feature store guides, product lists as well as educational material.

More educational material can be found at independent researh sites such as: John Dvorak’s www.hempology.org, Dr. Dave West’s archive www.gametec.com/hemp, Carl Olsen and the Schaffer archives can be found at www.druglibrary.org which is especially strong for drug policy issues.

In order to make your voice heard, one can simply venture to www.access.wa.gov and www.fedworld.com to quickly access any state or federal representatives contact info. The League of Women Voters also has a fine site for Washington voters called www.washingtonvoter.org. www.vote-smart.org is similar in scope and our own Secretary of State’s web site can help you get registered right quick if you are (no excuses).

The “dark-side” is using the web as an information tool as well. A beauty example is the www.mfiles.org site which is a pet project of Lt. Gov. Brad “Don’t’ call me Bob” Owen. With it’s cheesy X-files theme, the professionally produced site unabashedly throws out old-wives tales like how pot makes young boys grow breasts as medially validated fact.

After learning all this stuff you can find some neat hemp products at www.knowwearhemp.com, a cottage industry run by a nice young woman named Maggie. www.hempys.com is a growing company making good-quality surf/snowboard equipment and clothing. www.realgoods.com and www.patagonia.com are even vending hempen wares for the yuppies who want to be looking their best at the next big protest. This is easy on the stores too since protestors cannot kick in the windows of an e-shop during a protest.

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Dave Olson would like life better if there were a couch for him everywhere he went. Like Al Gore, he chose to smoke cannabis in college and unlike Bill Clinton, he figured out how to inhale. In fact, he is very good at inhaling and if you are lucky, he may show you.

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Leveling the playing field # 3 — Hockey

Leveling the playing field # 3 — Hockey

4/18/02 4:04 PM

Leveling the Playing Field # 3 How the Internet enhances my Hockey viewing experience

I have been feeling really relaxed and good the last few days, for two reasons. One is that the hockey season started and the Canucks are off to a great start, the other reason I can’t really talk about here.

Just so you know from the start, hockey is my lambs-bread, the “manna from heaven,” the one constant in my life. It seems that no matter where in the world I am living or travelling, what wars are raging in the world or in my mind, hockey is the sturdy oaken banister that is always there to enjoy.

My earliest childhood memories are watching hockey, seeing Daryl Sittler or Guy LaFleur blasting down the wing, hair flying, eyes raging. I went to a couple games a year in my youth and sat in the nosebleed seats and watched lousy teams no one wanted to see because the scalpers sold the tickets cheap.

Women may come and go n my life, but the Vancouver Canucks are always there for me. The Canucks started play in the NHL 2 months after I was born and I’ve been a fan ever since. Funny thing is, other sports are only marginally interesting to me (especially that throwy, throwy, catchy, catchy stand around and wait American football). Hockey is fast, elegant and rough.

As good as the game itself perhaps is the history and folklore of the game and players. Indeed when a team wins the Stanley Cup each player gets to do whatever he wants with it for 24 hours. A tradition over a hundred years old in which the Lord Stanley’s Cup has partied heartier than the most robust frat-boy.

So, while reading this article, if you don’t like hockey, replace the word “hockey” with something you like and the article will still maybe make some sense because this is after all, an article about the Internet and how it effects our society.

There are reasons (besides my personal preference) that this article is about hockey. The players, leagues and teams have embraced and used Internet technology in a much more pro- active and positive way then any other sport.

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First there are a few reasons for hockey’s Internet adventure:

Hockey is International — So is Internet

Long before the Cold War ended, Canada was already thawing the situation by starting the Summit Series in 1972 (and subsequent Canada Cup tournaments) as an act of sports- diplomacy. It was also a chance to settle the debate of who is the mightiest hockey country on Earth. It made a lot more sense than stock-piling billions of dollars worth of munitions while forsaking education and social programs at the time.

In the early to mid eighties the league started to get more international with players being imported from Sweden & Finland, but in the later 80’s players from the USSR & Czechoslovakia started defecting. Now the league is 58% Canadian, 15% American and the rest European (Czech leads the way with 50 players).

Turns out, hockey parents everywhere in the world want to follow their son’s careers and that was a main reason why the NHL began broadcasting all games via Real Audio as soon as the technology was available. At most games now, there are several broadcast teams, home and away radio teams at minimum, sometimes national TV, often French broadcasters and now international networks, especially for the bigger games. Almost all of these broadcasts are simulcast by the NHL to anywhere in the world via a variety of streaming multi-media formats. Rather than messing around and talking about bringing the game to the rest of the world, the NHL did it. Now, other leagues are just starting to catch up and save face, plus they are trying to make money off the broadcasts.

On the same topic, a few years ago, hockey was about as alien to Florida as it was to Guam, yet every year, thousands of Canadians and N.E. U.S. spend the winters down in Florida, Arizona, etc. Guess where there are teams now?

It is kind of a sore spot to Canadians because in the last decade a few Canadian cities (Winnipeg & Quebec) lost their franchises to rich Americans who moved the teams to new locales. The Internet and Real Audio broadcasts helped soften the withdrawl symptoms the die-hard fans experienced when their teams

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packed it in and headed south. The Canadian government hypes the Internet like a nation of AL Gore’s and the people enjoy using Internet during those long cold winters.

NHL’s easy policy with copyright use (compared with NBA especially)

NHL league and teams encourage user participation both in using the official NHL & independent team’s sites as well as encouraging them to make fan websites. Conversely, the NBA has strictly regulated each team’s site, all of which are under NBA corporate control whereas in NHL, each team owns the rights to do what they want with their sites and their logos etc.

The really foolish thing that the NBA did is sued fans over trademark infringement because they were using team logos on their fan page. This one guy who got really hosed by the NBA, even put up a big banner saying something like, “This site is in no way connected with NBA or Cleveland Cavaliers . . .) but they made him remove all NBA property from the site including logos and pictures of players. That doesn’t leave you much content, does it?

On the contrary, there are dozens of sites many of which are better than the official team sites, which have pics, reviews, analysis, draft reports, history and all sorts of other stuff that the NBA wouldn’t allow. In fact, the best writer’s I’ve found on the topic of hockey aren’t working for the newspapers, they are publishing on-line at sites like Trolley Tracks, Griper and The Forum.

Most everyday, I find a new hockey site which, under NBA guidelines, would warrant a lawyer. NHL is happy the fans around the world are giving so much time, creativity and energy into making cool Internet stuff to promote the sport and their fortunes.

Our Millionaires aren’t as whiney as other millionaires

The players certainly don’t mind fans making sites. An Internet search for the most minor of pro hockey players will result in dozens if not thousands of matches.

A reason for this is that hockey’s millionaire players and billionaire owners (generally) aren’t as big as the thick-headed and greedy

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as in other leagues (of course there are plenty exceptions). In other words, most hockey guys really appreciate the support they get from their fans and even more appreciative of the fact that they aren’t working at some factory or playing in some small minor town for $350/wk like most of the guys they grew up with.

This relationship with the fans carries on with the community programs and the charities that the players run. Any hockey players making over a million has a foundation or charity to give back to the community. Indeed the NHL gives big money to Cancer research and players have their pet causes from MS to spinal research. In Canada the tax breaks make it is an easy choice for players to get involved (plus you figure the team would be a bit hesitant to trade a player who does so much good P.R., right?) So to support their side-projects, many hockey guys have become .com’s themselves setting up on-line outposts to sell stuff or schedule of events or prop their restaurants.

Most every player has a least one fan site about him, some have hundreds. It is really the same as collecting all your hockey cards and autographs in a scrapbook exept now it is on-line. Hockey players tend to be much more restrained and less arrest-prone than their NBA and NFL counterparts so there isn’t much off-ice drama to be read, but if you want to find out Pavel Bure’s favorite food, you likely can.

Stuff I do with Hockey on the Internet

Game Cast

With all the different multimedia features for hockey available of the Internet, you can even follow along the game with ESPN’s Gamecast which is an interesting use of Java as well as useful since every play and statistics is posted in an Interactive Java applet which looks like a hockey rink.

Red dots on the ice for where a goal was scored from, blue dots for shots, playing minute time, shots taken and injury reports, # of saves by goalies. This stuff provides a great enhanced experience while you are watching on TV or listening on Real

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Audio.

Fantasy Games

Hockey is intuitive for fantasy games. Used to be buddies made a fantasy hockey or baseball pool or rottessaire league and managed the stats on paper and usually hired a secretary to calculate all the points because no one could trust each other. Things are easier now.

ESPN used another advanced Java application for the Live Draft in the Fantasy League which is one of the neatest apps I have seen on the Internet . It’s also a great example of dynamic, database driven, interactive sites which will be some much more common in the next months/years.

Once you purchased a franchise and joined a division, you were put in a draft order and assigned a draft time at which you logged into your team page and joined the live draft. Each of the 10 teams had 90 seconds to select a player until you filled you roster with forwards, defensemen and goalies. You can put a guy a waivers if he is lagging, Injured reserve if hurt and negotiate trades with other teams.

The statistics are automatically calculated and entered into your league, which then sorts and organizes you in all sorts of ways. So you just have to figure out how to make your team win.

One of the interesting things about sports sites is that people pay money for this information and entertainment making sports sites one of two types of sites which successfully sell memberships. With all the thousands of .com business selling books, software and teddy bears, it’s really sports and smut that makes the money. (this is a topic in a forthcoming article)

Besides the ESPN league, I also signed up for a free league from CNN/Si in which I compete amongst some office mates, my brother and friends up in B.C. and a few people I don’t know. For new fans, it gives you guys to cheer for on various teams even if you don’t know all the guys yet.

This free league operates more like a free market economy in which you have a salary cap and can make 5 trades a week. Players’ values rise and fall depending on how many teams are

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buying/selling him, like the stock market. A fine lesson for young economists and future General Managers. Unlike ESPN, which uses a realistic type draft, multiple teams can have the same players which makes for fun competition.

Listening

Hockey really likes their broadcasters, so for decades, hockey was radio only but the broadcasters were so good, that people initially resisted watching on T.V. because the radio voice painted such a great picture. Teams honor and respect their broadcasters the same way some baseball teams do.

NHL carries on this tradtion with Internet broadcasts which often include an NHL Internet-only team who are not only broadcasting but chatting with listeners, researching statistics and tailoring the broadcasts to Internet audience. The International scope of this makes it really intriguing but I also like hearing both home and away broadcasters for each game for different perspectives. Plus since we don’t have a local NHL team here in WA, Internet is our only hope if you wanna hear a game.

Highlight video reels are available shortly after games of all goals, sweet plays, big saves and good fights. You can even pick and choose which you want to see and NHL.com will serve up your custom highlight review. No hassles.

During the week, NHL.com also hosts chats and audio interviews you can tune into and participate in just because they are decent folks. Not only that, they have hockey skill tutorials, Alumni/Where are they now profiles and much more.

There are a couple local Minor teams, the Tacoma Sabercats and the Seattle Thunderbirds who are experimenting with Internet broadcasts but neither of the teams have really jumped into the web and multimedia bandwagon though they both have websites and limited broadcasts.

Usenet/Newsgroup

Last month, I yakked about using Newsgroups/Usenet to get MP3. Newsgroups are really for news and discussion and it is one of my favorite ways to enhance the hockey experience. I have to give a bit of background so you know why it makes me so happy.

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I mentioned that I am a Canucks fan. The Canucks have never been . . how you say . . a “strong” team. Always an underdog, cobbled together bunch of under-achievers and over-achievers. In hockey, they say “character players” which usually means, likable, hardworking players, not necessarily talented.

In the early nineties, I wandered off on a random journey which took me to Europe, Southern US, Utah, to Japan, home to B.C., back to Japan and then Micronesia islands.

During this time, the Canucks turned into a minor powerhouse and took the N.Y. Rangers to 7 games in the Stanley Cup finals. They won their division a few times, playoff runs etc. While I was living abroad (this was before the days of Internet) I had to get by day old new reports which devoted upwards of 10 seconds to hockey after sumo and cricket or a scant paragraph of hockey results in a newspaper. It was a real withdrawl especially when they made their cup run. When they lost Game 7, there was even a riot (with tear gas) so basically I missed the whole thing. So now when the boys back home are reminiscing about the cup run, I draw a blank and just drink more.

Now in these glory days of Informational skidding all o’er the world via fiber and copper, any Internet user has a plethora of hockey information to choose from and enjoy. Indeed, there are a couple of guys who post to the canucks newsgroup who are living in Korea and Hong Kong. While they don’t have the convenience of seeing all the games via satellite dish like I do now, they can engage in witty discourse and discussion with other Canucks fans. I am happy that they don’t have to endure the way I had to. The world really is getting better all the time. With the virtual community feeling and personal communication in the newsgroups and Real Audio broadcasts, it really doesn’t matter where you live.

One of my best happenings in the canucks newsgroup was finding a guy who has seasons tickets and couldn’t make it to all the games so he advertised a few sets at face value, so I ordered up a few sets. The best part of it is that they are front row, right behind the glass! The only people in front of me are wearing skates. Now before you think I am too easily excited, usually for tickets tike that you have to go through a scalper or “ticket broker” and pay a few hundred bucks (that is Canadian though). But

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because of the instant communication via Usenet, I scored the sweet deal.

Since I read the newsgroup everyday, I had a sense of familiarity and community with the regular posters to the newsgroup. Thusly, I felt an element of “trust”, such that I felt like I could invite most anyone from the newsgroup out for a beer and not fear decapitation. I sent my Dad to get the tickets just in case though ;-)

Since my ISP has a high-quality Usenet feed, I also get the clari. newsgroups which carry the AP & UPI wires which the newspapers receive so all box scores, statistics, breakdowns injury reports from a verifiable source as soon as they are released.

Statistics and research

I don’t care for numbers much, but numbers tell the story, especially when I was picking out my fantasy hockey teams. Fortunately there are some great fan made pages out there to find any factoid you could need.

A few noteworthy ones:

There is a site called Joy of Hockey which has a page for dang near each player in the NHL. The Hockey DB has stats for every player who played pro, minor, major junior , college hockey most anywhere in the world for like 70 years. A guy in Hawaii has an archive of all trophy and award winners since the beginning of the Stanley Cup.

Since the Canucks drafted the Sedin twins from Sweden, I found a great English page about their team MoDo. LCS Hockey over time has year by year coverage and recap of teams. The big corporate sites like ESPN, CNN/SI, The Hockey News etc. can give even more. Canoe’s Slam Sports is another great all around hockey news site, mostly for Canadian based teams. Slam also creates the official WHL, AHL, QMJL sites too. NHLPA is the Player’s Association official site and while it quite good, the web designer’s overbuilt it somewhat so it moves as slow as Dana Murzyn.

I play hard and occasionally hurt myself, I can learn why I hurt at

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hockyinjuries.com which is very well made and useful site which professional advice (with disclaimer) about injuries and a guide to buying and taking care of your equipment.

Hockeyfutures has analysis of all the Canucks draft picks with ratings, reviews and chances of getting into the big leagues and if so what role will they play. This helps me figure out who will be on the team in a few years and who we should trade now.

Official pages and promotions

Most team’s pages are quite good too, the Colorado Avalanche has one of the first Flash sites on the web (now under re- construction). I virtually toured the Montreal Canadiens dressing room, Atlanta’s new Phillips Center and the ugly new logos for the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.

I also found out from the Canucks site that if I am one of the first 5000 fans to GM Place tonight for the game against the Carolina Hurricanes, I get a free CD-Rom. Whoa. Didn’t they used to give away pucks as souveniers? Well since I want my CD-Rom, I have to go.

If you need a fix, visit http://gigpig.olywa.net, this will get you the goods.

Daveo@olywa.net, who was born in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, plans to watch every goal the Canucks score this year in person or T.V. via his new satellite dish. Chicks who dig hockey are encouraged to visit and bring beer. During the week, he wears an OlyWa.Net jersey, on Sundays he wears a helmet & skates and is a “character player”.

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