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Scott Ertz Golden Era of Star Trek streaming may be over with new cancelation
(2024-04-14)
Over the past few years, Star Trek has seen a renaissance of sorts. This has been the first time since the late 1990s that there have been so many active projects within the Star Trek Universe. But, there has been a fear that, like any bubble, it would eventually pop. The past year has seen the end of several projects, and confusion over one, leading to fears that the burst might happen soon. This week, during Paramount's CinemaCon presentation, it was revealed that fan-favorite Star Trek: Lower Decks will end after its upcoming 5th season.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Star Trek: Lower Decks reception[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Before the launch of Star Trek: Lower Decks, the series was met with a mix of anticipation and skepticism. The show was announced as an animated comedy, a departure from the traditional Star Trek format, which led to some uncertainty among the franchise's fanbase. Despite this, the series built a strong fan loyalty during its streaming of the fourth season. The creator, Mike McMahan, even called on fans to help keep the show from facing the same fate as Prodigy, another Star Trek series. The announcement of a fifth season, six months before the fourth season debuted, was met with enthusiasm.

After its premiere, Star Trek: Lower Decks received mixed reviews. While some critics praised its light but faithful take on Gene Roddenberry's mythos, others felt that some of the humor didn't quite land. However, most negative reviews did not call the series a total bomb. Over time, the series became a beloved favorite among franchise fans. Despite the mixed initial reception, the series was successful enough to run for five seasons. The announcement of its conclusion after the fifth season was met with disappointment by the fans. McMahan said to fans,

We wanted to let you know that this fall will be the fifth and final season of Star Trek: Lower Decks. While five seasons of any series these days seems like a miracle, it's no exaggeration to say that every second we've spent making this show has been a dream come true. Our incredible cast, crew and artists have given you everything they have because they love the characters they play, they love the world we've built, and more than anything we all love love love Star Trek. We're excited for the world to see our hilarious fifth season which we're working on right now, and the good news is that all previous episodes will remain on Paramount+ so there is still so much to look forward to as we celebrate the Cerritos crew with a big send-off.

I was among the many skeptics of the series before it premiered. Star Trek animation did not have a strong history at the time, and the premise had a lot of possibility for failure. I had also been a critic of the first resurgence series, Star Trek: Discovery. However, within the first few episodes, I became a believer - the comedy was what I had hoped for, and the series showcased an aspect of the ships that, outside of Star Trek: Voyager's few episodes, we've never really gotten a good view of - the junior officers and their activities keeping the ship running.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The end of the road?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
There was once a time, within the past 18 months, where Star Trek content was unstoppable. However, with this cancelation, the Star Trek Universe has shrunk back down. Star Trek: Picard is over. Star Trek: Discovery is over. Star Trek: Lower Decks is coming to an end. Star Trek: Prodigy is in a nebulous state. This leaves us with Star Trek: Strange New World in active production, and the possibility of the Starfleet Academy-based series in the future, plus a few movies theoretically in development.

If this presentation is to be believed, there could be a new generation of exciting new Star Trek in our future. However, if this was an advertisement for Paramount's IP with the goal of a corporate sale, which some speculate that it was, then this could possibly be the end of the Star Trek renaissance.
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Scott Ertz Broadband Labels are here to explain your internet bill details
(2024-04-14)
If you're anything like I am, you've had the same internet service provider (ISP) for years. Sure, I've upgraded plans in that time - 100 Mbps was the maximum you could get when I signed up - but the provider has always been the same. This has been, in large part, because it's a massive challenge to wade through the details of ISP plans when everyone uses marketing terms rather than industry terms to describe their services. At least with the same provider, you know what the words mean. Now Broadband Labels are here to make that comparison between services easier with consistent naming and descriptions - just like the panel on the side of your favorite cereal.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What are Broadband Labels?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Broadband Labels, also known as Broadband Consumer Labels, are designed to provide clear, easy-to-understand, and accurate information about the cost and performance of high-speed internet services. They are modeled after the FDA nutrition labels and are intended to help consumers comparison shop for the internet service plan that will best meet their needs and budget. Internet service providers that offer home, fixed internet services, or mobile broadband plans are required to have a label for each service plan they offer. Beginning April 10, 2024, consumers should look for broadband labels at any point of sale, including online and in stores. The labels must disclose important information about broadband prices, introductory rates, data allowances, and broadband speeds.

The goal of these labels is to give people accurate information for comparing plans. The labels are being mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after more than a decade of lobbying by Consumer Reports and other advocacy groups. A rule requiring these labels was first adopted by the FCC in 2016 but was never implemented. Large internet service providers - those with at least 100,000 subscribers - are required to implement the new labels starting April 10. Smaller ISPs have until Oct. 10, 2024, to comply. The rule applies to all internet services, including the 5G wireless home internet now offered by T-Mobile and other companies.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">How do the Broadband Labels work?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
If you have ever looked at the Nutrition Label on the side of a food package, you already know how the Broadband Labels work - at least in concept. All of the information about your internet service plan are provided in a consistent and easy to read way. Starting at the top you'll see the name of your ISP and that name of the plan.

Below that in large print is the most important part - the monthly price for the service. That is followed by the breakdown of that price and how it might vary. This includes any carrier service fees, local, state, or federal fees, and taxes. It also breaks down what a contract looks like and any financial hit you might have for breaking that contract.

Next up is the speeds for the plan. These are the expected speeds, not necessarily guaranteed speeds. However, with the new rules, these speeds must be reasonably expected, not hypothetical speeds if no one else in the world is using the internet at the same time. It shows down speed, up speed, and even expected latency. It is important to note that things on your internal network might change your local speeds, so these numbers are between the modem and the network itself.

Next, you'll find details about bandwidth limitations. We know that several big carriers, including Comcast, have begun implementing bandwidth data caps on their home internet plans. If your carrier is one of them, you'll see that spelled out in this section. It will also have the fees or other scenarios for going over that number.

Finally, you'll find important company information, including customer service phone numbers, privacy policies, and even the unique plan code registered with the FCC. This gives a quick way to reference the details of the plan in the future, as well as a way to make a complain if you do not receive the features you are paying for.

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Scott Ertz Pokémon Violet save data threatens Japanese man with 5 years in jail
(2024-04-14)
In the world of Pokémon, one of the most popular parts of the game is collecting the full Pokedex. However, anyone who has regularly played any of the games in the series knows that it can be a challenge. There are rare creatures that are hard to find. In some games, like Pokémon GO, some creatures are location-locked, meaning you have to go to another country or continent to find them. This creates a scenario for people to obtain these creatures through illicit means, and that could land you in prison, as it might for one Japanese man.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What is the Unfair Competition Prevention Act?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The Unfair Competition Prevention Act, enacted in 1993 and subsequently amended, serves as a legal framework in Japan to combat unfair business practices and protect intellectual property rights. Its primary objectives are to ensure fair competition among companies and facilitate the proper implementation of international agreements related to trade and commerce. The Act addresses various aspects of unfair competition.

In 2018, the Act was revised to enhance the utilization of "data" as a valuable resource for company growth. The revision introduced provisions related to "shared data with limited access," aiming for efficient data provision and utilization. In the case of videogames, the data protections provided for in this law extend to game save data. As such, tampering with game save data to do something that is not legitimate is a direct violation.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Arrested for fake save data[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
According to a report from NHK, a 36-year-old man was arrested by Japanese police after a "police cyber patrol" encountered the man creating and reselling falsified Pokémon Violet save data. The data gave Pokémon in the file moves that they are either not supposed to have, or that are not common for their type. This data tampering violates the Unfair Competition Prevention Act, or more specifically, the 2018 amendment.

According to the report, the man was creating the fake data specifically to sell. He made these files available for users on a particular digital marketplace for 13,000 yen, or around $84 USD each. If you wanted 6, you could buy them as a package for $30 each, working out to about $180, which was a decent deal comparative. The orders for rare Pokémon and move sets took place between December 2022 and March 2023 and netted him a decent amount of sales. Enough, at least, to attract the attention of the police. The man has allegedly admitted to the crimes, leaving only sentencing. The sentence could involve up to 5 years in prison, as well as up to 5 million yen ($32,600 USD) in fines.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The latest Pokémon crime[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Japan has seen a number of high profile crimes surrounding the Pokémon franchise. In 2021, a man tried to scale a 6 story building in order to steal a large collection of Pokémon cards. In 2022, a series of Pokémon heists took place across the country. In one instance, thieves got away with over $60,000 worth of Pokémon cards from a collection. Any time a property becomes this popular, it will inevitably create a black market around it. This could include stolen in-game items, real world items, hacked game data, and even counterfeit products.
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Scott Ertz Amazon's Alexa dreams are coming to an end with end of Skills program
(2024-04-14)
When Amazon first launched Alexa and the accompanying speakers, the company intended for the ecosystem to be the center of a user's digital home life - a similar goal to Steve Ballmer's pivot for the Xbox brand. However, despite the company's constant push into new hardware and new concepts, Alexa is still the system you use to turn on your lights and check the weather. As such, Amazon is scaling back its goals and dropping incentives for developers.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Amazon's initial Alexa goals - Alexa Skills[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
When Alexa first launched, the goal was not just to be a smart speaker ecosystem, but a development platform. While Amazon would develop a series of core features, such as time, weather, shipping info, etc., third-party developers were also given the ability to build for the system. The intention was for developers to build out the capabilities of the platform, making it a screenless smartphone.

Some truly useful Skills have been developed over the years. For example, Microsoft developed an Alexa skill to allow you to control your Xbox with your voice, replacing the native Cortana features when it was retired. In addition, the music companies, like Spotify and Pandora, all have streaming capabilities to compete with Amazon Music. All of this was controllable via voice on your speaker, phone, or microwave - assuming you have an Alexa-powered microwave.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Struggles to get adoption for Skills[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
However, Amazon has struggled from the beginning to get developers on board. Partially, this is because it requires a new skill set for developers to produce. But, partially, developers noticed that they themselves were not really using any Alexa skills and suspected that they would have little to no usage by others. With that, developers never prioritized Alexa skills in their development pipelines, leaving the ecosystem fairly flat.

In an attempt to get developers to build Skills for Alexa, Amazon created incentive programs. The most prominent was the Alexa Developer Rewards program. This program essentially paid developers to produce and maintain the top apps on the platform. In addition, the program gave Amazon Web Services (AWS) credits to developers to help support those connected Alexa Skills.

Unfortunately, that program is now coming to an end. Amazon will no longer be giving out AWS credits to Skills, effectively disincentivizing developers and platforms from developing new Skills, and possibly killing off existing ones that don't support themselves financially. This can make a positive impact on the platform, with less nonsense Skills to have to wade through looking for something more interesting. But it likely means that some legitimate tools could be going away.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What is the future of Alexa?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
As Skills are set to dry up, the future of Alexa is in question. The company had looked at slimming down or cutting the hardware division entirely. However, with the addition of Panos Panay, there is no way the service gets slimmed down entirely. In fact, since his arrival, talks of a strengthened AI-powered service, and possibly even a subscription model for advanced features - like Windows Copilot - have strengthened. Alexa might not be the same service following this move, but she will still be part of our lives.
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Scott Ertz NYT says it didn't hack ChatGPT, only exposed copyright infringement
(2024-03-16)
The lawsuit between The New York Times and ChatGPT maker OpenAI has heated up in the past few weeks. After NYT cited examples of ChatGPT spitting out exact text from NYT articles. This prompted OpenAI to claim that the publication had "hacked" the system in order to get it to do things it shouldn't do. The publication has responded by claiming that it did nothing wrong, only used publicly available capabilities, and exposed ChatGPT as a system of plagiarism.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What did NYT do?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The process by which the NYT was able to prove its case was simple. They just fed the system a single line from an article and asked for the next line. From there, ChatGPT happily repeated the articles word for word. To be able to do this, obviously, OpenAI had full access to the articles. This would be one thing if the articles were public like this one is. However, the articles that NYT staffers were testing were paywalled content.

This meant that OpenAI was, in one manner or another, accessing content that was not publicly available, but only available to subscribers, and either using that as training data for its system or loading it on-demand. Either way, it was purposefully accessing data that it was not supposed to have access to. But, more than that, it was serving that content up exactly as it existed on the NYT website, allowing people to bypass the company's paywall, essentially stealing from them directly.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">OpenAI's accusation[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
OpenAI has accused NYT of hacking the system in order to set the company up for a lawsuit. Their reasoning for this is that no user would actually use ChatGPT in this manner. And while, on the surface, this seems like a silly way to use the application, it is actually very popular. In fact, there are full Reddit discussion groups dedicated to the practice.

The popularity of the action is in the result, not in the practice itself. Of course, no one wants to have a computer system retrieve and display an article one sentence or paragraph at a time. However, when an article is behind a paywall and you do not have a subscription to that site, this method can be used to read that article without paying for it. Just because OpenAI doesn't want people to use the system this way does not mean that people won't.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">NYT's response[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The company's legal team submitted in a legal filing saying,

In OpenAI's telling, The Times engaged in wrongdoing by detecting OpenAI's theft of The Times's own copyrighted content. OpenAI's true grievance is not about how The Times conducted its investigation, but instead what that investigation exposed: that Defendants built their products by copying The Times's content on an unprecedented scale-a fact that OpenAI does not, and cannot, dispute.

The argument seems solid, as OpenAI's complaint does not seem to be formed on the basis of the manner in which NYT discovered the data but simply that they discovered it. But, either way, NYT has a great case because OpenAI has been aware of the infringement that exists within its system, and that alone is enough. The legal theory comes from the landmark case against Napster where the company was found liable for copyright infringement occurring on its network because they were aware of the activity and took no actions to prevent it.

In this case, OpenAI was made aware early on that their system was capable of directly plagiarising content from the web, including content that was supposed to be unreachable behind a paywall. Because the company was made aware of the issue and continued to allow the infringement to happen, NYT hopes to use the same argument to indicate liability on the part of OpenAI.
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