Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Am Supernode

I've been using Skype a little bit lately. The main reason is that a programmer who works for me just moved to Venezuela, so we use it to video conference him into our weekly meetings, as well as for text chatting and occasional voice calls. Overall it works pretty well.

I have been using the campus Jabber server to chat with the consultants in our testing lab but hadn't really been using anything to chat with the programmers. Since we all installed Skype, we've been chatting through that, so I actually talk to them more than I had been, even though it only takes about 7 seconds to walk out my door into their office.

So I got an email from one of the campus security team saying that my computer was serving as a supernode for about 400,000 Skype clients. Basically, Skype uses a peer to peer network for handling traffic, and since I had a fast enough computer with a high speed internet connection that was always on and logged into Skype, I got volunteered to route calls through my machine for people. Yikes.

One site that talked about how to keep from getting wrestled into being a Skype supernode was much less technologically advanced than I hoped it would be. Their suggestion? Block Skype with your firewall and only run the program when you are planning to make or receive a call. That's not ideal, but I suppose it will work, except I now have to pick a different communication method to determine when we need to load up Skype so we can communicate. Google Talk may work, since you can make voice calls through it; it doesn't do video, but none of us are really that exciting to look at anyway.

So, the lesson for today is be careful with Skype.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Surf the Channel

While teaching about Information Law & Ethics recently, some students in my class asked about this website, Surf the Channel. I hadn't heard of it before, so I did a little research into it. It looks to be an interesting model. It's an advertising-driven Sweden-based site, and they claim that they exist for fun, not for profit. All they provide is links to embedded videos that are hosted somewhere else on the web. You pick a channel, such as Movies, TV, Sports, etc. and there is a huge list of videos hosted by other people, many of which appear to be, which seems to be something along the lines of a Chinese YouTube.

To make sure I fully researched the topic, I watched Evan Almighty. It had Chinese subtitles and was split into three sections. It had a few buffering problems, but that wasn't too difficult to deal with. It was a good show, by the way. I had been planning to watch it with a free Redbox code, but this saved me the trip.

After talking to my class about what I found, the question came up whether it is illegal to watch the movies or TV shows that are posted there. Surf the Channel disclaims responsibility, since they just link to content that other people have hosted, so we have some gray area there, but it is pretty clear that the content hosting sites are in the wrong for providing copyrighted content that they don't own. So what about watching copyrighted content, through streaming video that you don't download and re-share yourself? I basically told my class that the MPAA and RIAA are going to go after the low hanging fruit of people providing illegal content before they start going after the consumers, which will be much more difficult to track or prove anything. But watch at your own risk.

If you want to try a similar site for watching videos, where they have actually licensed the content they are showing, you might try out Joost. I haven't actually tried it myself yet, so I'd be interested to hear anyone's opinion of it. For streaming music, I recommend Pandora.