Coyotes, whose lugubrious howl defines the badlands, have spread over the eastern United States. But this coyote reached Midtown. Naturalists think he crossed into Manhattan from mainland America over one of the northern bridges, then made his way south via Riverside Park. Between that and Central Park lie the apartments of many liberals; the beast must have slunk past them in the night. Your average New Yorker probably can’t tell a coyote from Balto the Sled Dog, but Central Park’s rangers could, and soon a massive animal-hunt was under way. The Times ran a picture of the coyote sneaking, like the Roadrunner, behind the back of a determined stalker. At last he was tranquilized, a few blocks from the Plaza Hotel.
New York takes an interest in natural irruptions because there is so little nature left here. When the Dutch discovered it, the great harbor was like Monterey Bay, filled with seals and whales. When George Washington arrived in a ceremonial barge for his first inauguration, he was followed (a detail that always makes my eyes tear) by leaping porpoises. Foot-long oysters used to be harvested in Gowanus Creek; now the only fruit of the Gowanus Canal is tires, which glow in the dark and are poisonous. Over the centuries, New Yorkers have drained the marshes, filled the gullies, shaved the hills, and straightened the coastline. When we finally grew impatient with the curve of Spuyten Duyvel, the creek at Manhattan’s northern tip, we moved it and renamed it the Harlem River Ship Canal. Nature in New York has been flattened, strangled, buried.
And yet it persists. Because naked streets become hellish canyons in summer, the city plants trees. When one species succumbs to a blight, it switches to another. The current tree of choice is the Callery pear, a fruitless variety brought by missionaries from China. Its leaves are the last to turn bronze in the fall, and its puffy white blossoms are the first to appear in the spring. Every April, skanky East Village blocks lined with Afghan restaurants and jewelry stores that do piercings become cloud-banks. Just down the hill from nr’s old office, the street that pours traffic into and out of the Midtown Tunnel looks, for a brief season, like a lane from A Shropshire Lad.
On summer nights, choruses of insects compete with car alarms and garbage trucks. A Swedish naturalist who came to the city in the early 18th century remarked that the nighttime din of tree frogs was so great that conversation was impossible. Very likely he was hearing bugs instead. “Bugs,” I know, is imprecise; unless I see their taxi license on the bullet proof interior divider, how am I supposed to know their proper name? But whatever they call themselves, they make quite a racket. In July they are accompanied by fireflies, setting off their own inches-high fireworks displays, with what seems like special relish over the signs that warn, keep off the grass.
Some species flourish here. Vermin, of course-roaches, rats, silverfish. Pigeons are pests, but they are wonderful, with their iridescent throats and their solemn, seemingly purposeful walks that always break up into zigzags. Peregrine falcons nest on skyscrapers and bridge trusses, feasting on the pigeons.
Sometimes abused nature hits back. The heat waves are the grimmest, although the whopper snowstorms speak with the most authority. The blizzard of 1888, which struck in March, dropped more than 21 inches of snow; winds piled it into enormous drifts. Sen. Roscoe Conkling was trapped for 20 minutes in a huge one in Union Square, and died of pneumonia shortly thereafter. An Irish kid, Alfred E. Smith, saw people walking across the frozen East River, just to be able to say they had done it. A few winters ago, we got even more snow, minus death and ice.
The only reason to go on about urban nature, apart from the fact that everyone likes to talk about the weather, is that it is typical of nature all over the United States. Americans do their considerable best to tame it and put it to use, but it never quite works. North America is just not a dependably pleasant place to live. In 1944, Denis W. Brogan, an English journalist, devoted several pages of his book, The American Character, to what struck a foreigner as “the savage possibilities of the climate.” “It is no accident,” he wrote, “that a great American fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz, begins with a tornado and storm cellar” or “that one of the most important inventions of that most representative of Americans, Franklin, was an efficient stove (another was the lightning conductor).” Americans need temperature control, and protection from acts of God.
This is the flip side of our feeling that America is Eden. Maybe it was impious to come back. D. H. Lawrence thought that the last Mohicans in James Fenimore Cooper represented the guilty conscience of their white supplanters. New York has an equivalent urban myth-the pet baby alligators that, when flushed down toilets by children who tired of them, grew into albino monsters in the sewers. There are no alligators down there, but the tale tells a truth: We are still fairly new in the neighborhood, and we don’t quite fit.
President Clinton, trying to rally interest in a treaty to stop global warming, challenged the Big 3 in the past to do more than merely develop prototypes of fuel-efficient cars.
The carmakers will have to transform technological breakthroughs into vehicles people really want to buy, and they should apply fuel-saving advances to trucks as well as cars, he suggested during a White House conference on climate change.
Yet, he also acknowledged that winning consumers over will not be easy.
“Who will buy this stuff?” he wondered out loud last week.
Although he made the remarks in a casual, almost offhand way, Clinton effectively spelled out the challenges automakers would face under the global climate change treaty he wants to sign in Kyoto, Japan, in early December.
“Given Americans’ buying habits and consumer preferences, don’t we have to include these light trucks and even heavy trucks in this Partnership for the Next Generation Vehicle?” Clinton asked, referring to a government-industry research program aimed at developing prototypes of an 80-mpg family car by 2004.
Big 3 chief executives, who oppose a climate treaty that would put binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions, frequently have cited their involvement in PNGV as proof nonetheless of their willingness to be cooperative.
In fact, they reassured the president in a White House meeting on Oct. 2 that they would meet the goals.
But Clinton wondered last week: “The real problem is, once they develop a prototype, how quickly can it be mass-produced and how will people buy it, and will they buy it at present fuel prices?”
At the Oct. 2 White House meeting, the Big 3 CEOs also proposed “a massive national effort,” possibly patterned after the PNGV undertaking, to find more efficient ways of using energy. That would include energy consumed in the manufacturing process, Ford Chairman and CEO Alex Trotman said.
Trotman gave no details of the proposal – and Ford spokesman Al Chambers said last week that none will be forthcoming.
Chambers said the purpose of the proposal was to say to the president, “If there must be a global warming treaty, the United States should oppose binding limits on greenhouse gases and should insist instead that technology be exploited to achieve treaty goals.”
Chambers said, “What we’re saying is, we accept the importance of this, and let’s get it right.”
The Big 3 are still concerned that the treaty will contain binding limits. And they believe the only way such targets could be met would be through higher energy taxes, some kind of emissions trading system or regulatory control, Chambers said.
The car companies oppose regulatory control, such as higher fuel economy standards, because it has proven ineffective, Chambers said. And they view an emissions trading system as the virtual equivalent of higher taxes, he added.
At the global warming conference, Clinton all but ruled out higher energy taxes because he said they would be unacceptable to consumers and to Congress.
He indicated that an emissions trading system is likely to be part of the U.S. negotiating position.
Under such a system, a company or a nation that emitted fewer greenhouse gases than its goal could sell the difference – essentially a pollution permit – to a company or nation unable to meet its goal.
The method creates incentives for pollution reduction and, under the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, has already worked to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions in the United States faster than expected.
Harvard University Professor John Holdren, one of the climate experts Clinton called on to lead the conference discussion, tried to dispel the popular argument that proof of global warming is inconclusive and that immediate action is unnecessary.
“Human disruption of climate by greenhouse gas emissions is almost certainly further along than most people think,” he said. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert much larger disruption than experienced so far is going to be more difficult than most people think.”
The basic theory is that excess carbon dioxide, mostly from burning fossil fuels, and other gases in the atmosphere are trapping heat and will lead to floods, droughts and other catastrophes.
The White House global warming conference, held at Clinton’s undergraduate alma mater of Georgetown University, was aimed at generating public support for the proposed treaty and quelling opposition. But it also helped define administration strategies for negotiating and then implementing the treaty.
Clinton and Vice President Al Gore said the administration will seek some kind of commitment from developing nations that they, too, will limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
A preliminary agreement reached in 1995 said only developed countries would be bound by the Kyoto pact. Critics, including the car companies, have opposed the treaty because of the exemption it would give such rising industrial powers as China, Brazil, Mexico, Korea and India.
Without pollution constraints on those countries, critics say, developed nations will lose millions of jobs as industries migrate to them. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution saying it would not ratify a global warming treaty that harmed the American economy.
But Clinton and Gore have accepted environmentalists’ argument that the United States, with 4 percent of the world population but more than 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, has a special obligation to solve the problem.
Gore says the developing countries also must do their part, but if the United States does not lead, no one is going to follow.
Despite some additional elaboration at the conference, the administration remained vague about the details of its negotiating position. Domestic critics as well as European and Japanese leaders have complained that the uncertainty of Clinton administration plans is making progress toward a treaty more difficult.
The European Union long ago proposed that the developed countries commit to reductions of 15 percent from 1990-level emissions by 2010. Japan last week proposed a 5 percent cut in roughly the same time frame but included so many escape clauses that environmental groups have labeled the proposal almost useless.
Some officials in the administration believe Clinton will announce some additional details of the U.S. position before the next preliminary negotiating session, scheduled for Oct. 23 in Bonn, Germany.
In some respects, the U.S. auto industry’s’ exact position on the treaty is equally vague.
While the auto executives say they support PNGV and made the energy-research proposal at the White House as another apparent attempt to show their cooperativeness, the car companies continue to be leaders of coalitions that are vigorously fighting the treaty.
They are the Global Climate Information Project and the Global Climate Coalition, whose members also include the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.
The information project, which also is supported by the National Automobile Dealers Association and the American International Automobile Dealers Association, is conducting at multimillion-dollar national advertising campaign to turn public sentiment against the proposed Kyoto treaty.
Peter Pestillo, Ford Motor Co. executive vice president for corporate relations, who attended the president’s invitation-only global warming conference, said he appreciated that it was an exchange of ideas and not “total propaganda.”
He also said he did not view the president’s remarks necessarily as a challenge to the industry: “He was saying, ‘Let’s take the technological gloves off. … Let’s work on this together.’”
The Big 3 position
The Big 3 oppose plans to sign a global warming treaty in Kyoto, Japan, in December. Their principal objections:
* Scientific evidence that global warming is occurring is inconclusive. And if it is occurring, the Big 3 says it is not clear that global warming is occurring as rapidly as environmentalists contend.
* The administration has failed to spell out what its negotiating position in Kyoto will be. or how a treaty would be implemented and enforced.
* U.S. compliance with binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions would require tough regulatory controls or hefty new energy taxes that would close factories, raise consumer prices and wreak havoc on the economy.
* At the same time, plans to exempt 132 of 166 nations from the initial requirements of the treaty would put the United States at a competitive disadvantage to rising industrial powers such as Brazil, China and Korea, and overall world emissions would not be reduced.
* Even some of the other developed countries, especially in the European Union, have built-in advantages that would make a treaty less damaging to their economies than to the United States.
Despite a rocky start and widespread derision on the Internet, backers of Divx are remaining steadfast in their commitment to the digital, pay-per-view DVD system. Divx debuted nationwide in October 1998–two months late because of delays in obtaining a sufficient number of Hollywood films–amidst reports of sluggish sales during summer test-marketing in Richmond and San Francisco.
Digital Video Express, the partnership between Circuit City and a Los Angeles law firm that’s pitching Divx, denies that the test-marketing was a disappointment. Josh Dare, Digital Video Express director of communications, says sales went as expected under the circumstances. The launch in Circuit City and good guys! stores in the two cities featured fewer than 100 movie titles and one $499 player manufactured by Zenith Electronics Corporation, which declared bankruptcy this year.
“We had one model player and got off to an admittedly slow start in the number of movies,” Dare says. “But we were encouraged by consumer response.”
Dare says consumers are attracted by the convenience of Divx, which allows them to purchase 48 hours of viewing time for $4.99. Instead of returning a Divx disc to the store when time runs out, the disc can be kept and reactivated for 48 hours for another fee, or activated permanently for up to $19.99.
Critics say the Divx feature is unnecessary now that open DVDs are being stocked in rental stores and are available for rent on the Internet, and they blast Digital Video Express for crowding the market with discs that are useless on open DVD players.
Referring to the onslaught of criticism as a “jihad,” Dare says he has been taken aback by the ferocity of Divx’s opponents, who he says have been spreading negative and often false information via the Internet. “I can’t understand the passion behind it,” he says. “I was naive. I expected this negative campaign to die down.”
Instead, it has been going strong. Internet reports claimed that Zenith had pulled out of the enterprise because of its financial problems, when, in fact, the company will include Divx players in its 1999 product line, says John Taylor, Zenith’s vice president of public relations.
“We are fully committed to DVD players with the Divx feature,” Taylor says. “There’s a vocal minority out there that doesn’t like the concept and has been spreading rumors.”
In time for this holiday season, Zenith and RCA are both offering $499 Divx players to holiday shoppers, while Proscan and Panasonic are selling higher-end Divx models.
The players and 250 Divx titles are available nationwide at 700 locations, including Ultimate Electronics and Future Shops in addition to Circuit City and good guys! stores. During 1999, JVC, Pioneer, and Harman Kardon will enter the Divx market, says Dare.
Industry analysts estimate that by the end of 1998, 5.3 million DVD players will have been sold and 8 million DVD-ROM drives–which read open DVDs but not Divx discs–will have been installed in personal computers. In contrast, they predict that sales of Divx players won’t reach the I million mark. And while all major Hollywood film studios have committed to DVD, Time Warner and Sony Pictures have refused to release their movies on Divx. The six studios that are backing Divx have been guaranteed $112 million in royalties over the next five years.
Divx supporters don’t like comparing their format to DVD, because they don’t view the systems as competitors. They point out that Divx machines play both DVD and Divx discs, along with Video CDs, and that their product actually benefits open DVD. “This is going to grow the digital market,” Dare says of Divx. “It’s one more DVD player that’s going to be in someone’s home.”
Dare says Digital Video Express is out to capture 15 to 20 percent of the videorental market, which averages 10 million movie rentals a day in the United States, within the next five years. Critics and many analysts say Divx has its work cut out for it, especially since the omnipresent Blockbuster chain and many other outlets have started renting open DVD-Video titles and players.
Circuit City chief executive Richard Sharp reportedly has acknowledged that Divx could reduce his company’s earnings substantially in the second half of the fiscal year. The electronics chain tried to avoid taking a hit for its support of Digital Video Express by seeking another financial backer for the enterprise, but failed to form any partnerships.
Dare says there were interested investors, but no one could agree on how much Divx is worth, so they couldn’t settle on what percentage of Digital Video Express the investors would own. The company expects that by February 1999, when the holiday sales are over, there will be evidence of what Divx is worth, and they will be able to strike a deal with investors.
In the meantime, Circuit City, owner of two-thirds of Digital Video Express, has had to cover the majority of the marketing costs itself, so the company scaled back its $100 million nationwide marketing campaign to $60 million. “We are quite comfortable with $60 million,” Dare says of Circuit City’s commitment.
Even with the marketing cut, Circuit City and its L.A. partner have invested $200 million in the venture, which means they will have to sell about two million machines and 50 million discs, and collect 50 million rental fees, to break even. Sharp has acknowledged that his earlier goal of selling 250,000 Divx machines in the first year may not be possible.
Dare says most analysts are being shortsighted. He is following a strategy of building toward the year 2000. In two years, he believes mainstream consumers will begin snatching up Divx players, because the average price will have dropped into the $300 range by then. And Dare expects more retailers to jump on board once Divx establishes itself as a force in the digital video market.
“It’s going to be a migration that happens slowly,” he says. “Perhaps a few retailers at a time.”
Marrying CD or DVD to the Internet to create a more robust Web experience while offering copy protection is a chief aim of HyperLOCK Technologies Inc. The company’s basic technology “cripples” a file and allows the missing parts to be received from an outside source “seamlessly and instantaneously,” giving the control of data use to an outside source. HyperLOCK’s technology shifts file transfer from telephony to the computer’s CPU.
Specifically, to use a HyperCD or HyperDVD, missing bits must be obtained via a remote server, or a host Web site. These bits, which can be further encrypted in a “bit file,” are pulled from the server by the HyperCD or HyperDVD plug-in, which is loaded at the time of insertion in the CD/DVD-ROM drive. (These discs replace the traditional ROM discs.) A proprietary mapping file and decoder piece the file back together within the memory of the user’s computer. It then plays back the now complete video file after authenticating the user with the HTML structure of the host, the company explains.
How does it all work? The end-user, having installed a HyperCD, is instantly connected to a designated URL, and information is time-released by the server. HyperCD can embed all video, audio, music, and JPEG images within a Web page and will reportedly create a fast Web experience. How do these products aid in copy protection? In the case of HyperDVD, “multiple layers of content protection are provided that prevent unauthorized access or use of proprietary content or time-sensitive information stored on the DVD. All content on the DVD is completely controlled from the HTML source code on the remote Web server. The developer can turn files on or off, or make changes and additions to them in minutes by altering the code on the Web site using standard HTML. This allows for enhanced advertising and sales opportunities, point-of-purchase merchandising, protection against obsolescence, and robust tracking of video user and user demographics,” the company says.
HyperLOCK’s Tony Caputo, vice president, new business development, offered us some recent case studies. Warner Brothers Online is among the first to use HyperDVD. Using HyperLOCK’s view-only encryption technology, Warner Brothers is producing a 12-episode tour of the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, California. Each of the 12 episodes will have a short preview clip, and if the user likes what he sees and wants more, he can purchase the rights to view the entire 20-minute episode. The Warner Brothers Drive-On HyperDVD will be available with new DVD-ROM drives this holiday season.
Another current user is Ameritech Creative Media. According to Caputo, Ameritech’s director, George Macropolus says that incorporating video and Web media was the “draw” to HyperCD, but when he discovered the added bonus of encryption features he was thrilled. “Using firewall security, Ameritech was able to limit access to any content to internal employees only. However, with a few hours of video content, the flexibility of the Web didn’t include the pipeline of high-quality video, and the protection of that video content. The HyperLOCK solution provided 42 high-quality QuickTime movies (the disc is cross-platform), which are seamlessly embedded within their fluid Web pages and easily controlled by simple HTML tags. The view-only encryption would provide for limited access to the video clips to employees only, with authorization through the firewall,” Caputo explains.
Also, by producing a HyperCD, rather than a CD-ROM, each of Ameritech’s 42 video clips were controlled by a single key from the server. “For example, if two of the video clips became obsolete within the six months, prior to the release of the second bi-annual edition, the webmaster need only deactivate those two clips by removing the two keys from the server. Again, with the Web serving as the fluid interface, users have the flexibility of replacing an obsolete clip with either a JPEG image, or by pushing a new video in the background, onto the hard drive. This creates a seamless and creative solution to starting from scratch,” Caputo adds.
Then there is JAMtv (Rolling Stone Network), another HyperLOCK client. To benefit the most from the JamTV Web site, the user needs ShockWave, iChat, BackWEB, Flash, Hot player, Real Audio, and a customized Internet Explorer browser. JamTV HyperCDs provide these web applications within a 12-minute install and also offer a bonus full-length music video. Caputo says, “The music video was protected by HyperLOCK encryption, so the rights-holders’ fears disappeared and the products increased web traffic. JamTV has distributed about 1 million copies of several discs we’ve assisted in developing for them.”
HyperCD was the first HyperLOCK product to be brought to market, and HyperDVD was introduced in June 1998. HyperShield, a downloadable player which holds all the keys to unlocking tens of thousands of Web images stored on a traditional Web server, is in beta testing. Also in alpha testing is HyperBROADCAST which is designed to allow a content provider the ability to push an “encrippled file” down a high bandwidth pipe (for example, satellite) and instantaneously take the same user to a host site where he or she will be given immediate playback of that file.
A recent report from Microsoft’s Southern California office estimates statewide casualties of software piracy at 18,900 jobs and $2.5 billion in combined lost wages, tax revenues, and retail sales for 1997. The report distributed by Microsoft to demonstrate the financial impact of the state’s 21.8 percent piracy rate, is based on data from a 1997 international piracy published by the Business Software Alliance and the Software Publisher’s Association. The Microsoft report also includes additional information on and analysis of piracy in California, as well a listing of telltale signs of pirated products to help would-be purchasers discern between illegitimate copies of Microsoft software and the genuine article.
Non-U.S. Telecommunications Tally To Total $38.7 Billion By 2002
According to a new Business Communications Company, Inc. study, telecommunications is taking the second and third worlds by storm, as developing countries increasingly seek to upgrade their telecommunications infrastructure to draw more manufacturing interests to their national economies. The study, titled “RG-148BR Non-U.S. Worldwide Markets: Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa,” reports that the global market for telecommunications equipment totaled $253.1 billion in 1997. The report attributes 11 percent of the total–$27.7 billion–Eastern European, the Middle Eastern, and African markets, and predicts that figure will rise to $38.7 billion by 2002, increasing at an annual rate of 7 percent. The study cites expectations of particularly significant growth in Middle Eastern and African companies as well as Russia, Hungary, and Austria; a statistical anomaly in its region, however, is the Czech Republic, for which the study forecasts 0 percent growth over the next half decade.
Long Live the King?
CD-ROM is still king, but it won’t keep its crown for long according to a recent DISK/TREND report. Across the broad spectrum of optical disc drives, CD-ROM still leads the pack by a substantial margin, racking up 83 million shipping units in 1998. But DISK/TREND sees changes on the horizon, predicting that DVD-ROM will claim the largest share of the 144 million optical drives expected to ship in 2001. The research house forecasts DVD-ROM shipments totaling 79.7 million on 2001, passing shipments of CD-ROM drives in that year, which will number 46.1 million. DISK/TREND also reports a passing of the mantel in the writable CD realm; CD-RW drives combining both CD-R and CD-RW capability claimed over 90 percent of 1998′s 4.8 million shipping-unit writable CD market, with only 10 percent going to previously dominant write-once-only CD-R drives. With multiple contenders in the writable/rewritable DVD game still confusing the market, DISK/TREND predicts sales of those drives (no matter which format prevails) not showing rapid growth until 2000, when shipments will rise to level comparable to CD-RW drives. Paralleling the ascent of rewritable DVD drives will be the decline of MO drives, which DISK/TREND says will peak with 1.9 million units shipped in 2000 and decrease markedly thereafter as rewritable models of similar capacity that offer compatibility with the massive DVD-ROM installed base subsume the high-density rewritable storage market.
DVD Demographics Bridge Generation Gap
According to a recent survey of conducted by the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA), when it comes to DVD, parents do understand: among various demographic groups consulted, Baby Boomers and their Generation X offspring are equally likely to consider buying DVD players. Survey results indicate that approximately 9 million house-holds are at least somewhat likely to purchase a DVD players between now and fourth quarter 1999: adjusting that figure for a best-guess intent-to-purchase/purchase ratio. CEMA estimates 2 million players will sell in the next year. However, the survey also reveals that–based on the 1,000 households surveyed–an estimated 59 million U.S. household remain unaware of DVD technology.