This Week In Techdirt History: November 15th – 21st

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we really saw things heat up around the TSA and its newly-introduced “backscatter” scanners and “enhanced” patdowns. One man was threatened with a lawsuit by the agency for refusing to be groped, while a woman who shared a similar story on the radio was nitpicked and accused of lying in a TSA blog post. The agency stood by its position when confronted, actively defending the techniques, and it even seemed like the public was okay with the naked scans — but it turned out that was only if you didn’t mention the “naked” part. Tests were showing that similar scanners were frequently fooled by clothing, but Time Magazine was standing up for the TSA and saying the backlash was just internet hype, even as the agency was being sued by a pilot over its intrusiveness. Congress, of course, was unconcerned — perhaps because congresspeople who fly commercial get to skip the process.

Meanwhile, the COICA online censorship bill was back up for a vote in the Senate, and the MPAA’s interim CEO was out defending it with false claims. Nineteen senators voted to move forward with the bill while one (Ron Wyden) was saying he’d block it.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2005 was all about the fallout from the Sony rootkit fiasco. After a week of being hammered, Sony finally relented and agreed to pull the CDs from stores. This was after the “uninstaller” they released was found to open up a new security hole which, upon examination, turned out to be a really massive and stupid one. Even after Sony’s too-little-too-late announcement, people continued scrutinizing the rootkit, and noticed several other things — like the fact that it contained copyright-infringing code, and that this wasn’t the first mistake of this nature from Sony. The rootkit appeared to be on track to become the biggest malware of the year, and some wondered why security firms didn’t catch it sooner (while others wondered if they could trust any software from Sony). By the end of the week, the company made another act of reluctant contrition, offering DRM-free MP3s to people affected by the rootkit.

Fifteen Years Ago

Back in 2000, like many other observers, Techdirt didn’t catch on to just how big mobile devices were going to become. When the CEO of Ericsson suggested they’d become more popular than PCs for accessing the web, we had serious doubts; when United offered wireless flight bookings, we wondered if it was important; when Samsung created a phone that could stream video, we questioned its usefulness. Well, live and learn! It was a different time after all — when the idea of people turning up in naked photos online was new and strange, and there was a console manufacturer called “Sega” mocking its competitor, the Sony PlayStation 2.

Forty-Seven Years Ago

We all know now that standard procedure for a television network when a live sporting event runs long is to keep the cameras rolling and delay whatever else was on the schedule (well, except for a younger generation that probably only has a vague idea of what a “television network” is). But there’s a first time for everything, and today’s standard procedure was November 17th, 1968’s sudden and unexpected disaster: the infamous “Heidi Game”, when the dramatic conclusion to a Raiders-Jets game (with the latter scoring two last-minute touchdowns to turn the game around) was cut from the airwaves in favor of Heidi, a made-for-TV movie adaptation of a 19th-century Swiss novel. Fans were unimpressed, and indeed nobody thought this was a good idea, but since nobody had thought about it in advance, the long-running game caused utter chaos, as Wikipedia summarizes:

…[NBC executives Connal and Cline] agreed the game would not end on time. Both supported running the end of the game, but given [NBC President] Goodman’s instructions, his permission was required. Connal agreed to call NBC Sports president Lindemann, and that he and Lindemann would then speak to Goodman. After promising Cline a return call, Connal reached Lindemann by telephone. Lindemann agreed that the end of the game should be broadcast, and both men began trying to reach Goodman. Lindemann was successful in reaching Goodman, and asked the network president, “What about the instruction to broadcast operations control that Heidi had to go on at 7:00 ET, no matter what?” Goodman replied, “That’s crazy. It’s a terrible idea.” Lindemann then set up a three-way conversation with himself, Goodman and NBC Television president Don Durgin. After several minutes of discussion, Durgin agreed to delay the start of Heidi until after the game was completed. …

Cline, watching the clock nervously, attempted to call Connal back, only to find both lines busy. He waited as long as he could, then made one final, unsuccessful attempt. Unknown to Cline, Connal was talking to Goodman, who had agreed to “slide the network”, that is, start Heidi as soon as Curt Gowdy signed off from the game. Connal called the game producer, Ellis, in Oakland, to tell him the news, then called the BOC [Broadcast Operations Control] supervisor in Burbank – who, not knowing Connal, refused his order, and insisted on speaking with Goodman directly. As Goodman had disconnected to allow Connal to call Oakland, this could not be done.

Beginning about 6:45, many members of the public began calling NBC network and affiliate switchboards. Some demanded the game be shown to its conclusion; others wanted to know if Heidi would start on time. These calls jammed the switchboards, and even blew repeated fuses in them, preventing the executives from getting through to each other to resolve the situation. NBC protocol required an operations order from Connal, to countermand the midweek written orders, but Cline received no call from the increasingly desperate Connal, who was frustrated by the switchboard issues. Without such an order, and not knowing of Goodman’s approval, Cline made the decision that Heidi would start on time.

Today, television networks have what’s colloquially known as a “Heidi phone” — a dedicated line for just such situations, to prevent that mess from ever happening again (though I imagine this has been replaced by or supplemented with even more reliable instant communication by now, too).

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