Translation Please: Best of NCTA Tech Papers, 2009


Three papers rose to the top of another satisfying batch of engineering abundanza put out annually by the National Cable Television Association.

First: “The Challenges of Stopping Illegal Peer-to-Peer File Sharing,” written by three comp-sci professors at the University of Colorado. It reads like a Tom Clancy novel (well, kind of), where the entity under siege is Bandwidth, and interlopers are P2P outfits, steadily bolstering their protocols to illegally trade copyright-protected content.

The intent of the paper is to educate Internet-service providers (the home team) about how P2P protocols and tactics are evolving to strengthen and obfuscate their endeavors. BitTorrent is heavily analyzed, including newer offshoots, isoHunt and The Pirate Bay, which host metadata files passed by Bittorrent to help distribute chunks of files.

Just like everything else, P2P techniques are advancing, and the coming chapters in that arms race involve anonymity mechanisms and location-hiding services. (Great.)

Next is “Increasing MSO Advertising Revenues Through Management of Ad Skipping,” by Dan Holden of the Comcast Media Center. Dating back to when I was a Frasier junkie, I've wondered if it was possible for Frasier or Niles to pop through the pause and beckon me back to the show. This is that, kind of: It outlines a way to manipulate the “I-frames” (these are the “initialization frames,” one of three frame types in MPEG-2 compression) to build content that shows while you're fast-forwarding through an ad.

There's data aplenty on the trajectory of ad-skipping, which, as you'd expect, is growing rapidly. So, maybe as you're skipping through that car ad, you see a more static image of a car, and some accompanying text, while the car ad is still visually zooming ahead.

Then there's “Wireless and Home Networking: A Foundation for Service Provider Applications,” by Liberty Global's Tim Burke and UPC Broadband's Michael Eagles. The 23-page doozy covers an ambitious level of material. Mark it as a one-stop-shop, should you ever wonder what's going on in wireless home networking.

Most impressively nerdy term: “Spatialecial separation,” in Holden's ad-skipping piece, which apparently describes the lines and frames delineating foreground content (the superimposed image) and the background (the image zooming along as you skip it.)

You can buy the whole batch for $50, either in book form or on CD-ROM. For the techno-interested, it's worth it.

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