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Thursday, May 9, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Today at lunch someone used the phrase "slightly half-assed". I said "three-quarter assed", and at just the same time someone else said "a quarter assed", and we discovered that there was at the table no consensus as to the default assage (if you will) that "half-assed" is a description of deviation from.

That is, if being half-assed is an abnormality or a flaw, then what is the normal (or unflawed) condition: fully assed, or not assed at all?

Someone at the table noted that "ass" is not generally a positive word (except in phrases like "hot ass", which one isn't supposed to use at the lunch table in a proper and non-harassing workplace), and that the default unflawed condition might therefore be not assed at all. I pointed out, on the other hand, that archetypal mammals generally have exactly one ass, so that was likely to be the default condition.

But we did not, I think, reach entire agreement.

(The little daughter points out that if the default condition was not assed at all, the most likely term for the flawed condition would be simply "assed", not "half-assed". An incisive observation, if I do say so myself.)

So what do you think? Is the normal condition:

Fully Assed
Not Assed at All

Optional comment:

Votes will be tabulated by our team of magical elves, and inscribed on the bark of trees.

Wednesday, May 8, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

So this week's virus hoax from the shallow end of the gene pool is a warning that jdbgmgr.exe is a virus. It is in fact some tiny piece of the Windows Java interpreter, and present on just about every modern Windows machine in creation. It also has a cute little teddy bear as an icon, which probably adds to the verisimilitude of the hoax. But still...

"Yeah, so I took off my shoes, like it said in the letter, and I looked down at my feet, and sure enough each one had five toes! You can imagine how I felt.

So, yep, it hurt quite a lot to cut off the little outside ones, but the letter says that it's the only way to get rid of this new fatal disease. I'm sure glad I saw the warning in time! Doctors are unable to diagnose or treat it, you know; you just have to cut off the extra mutant toes.

Better check your own feet right away! And tell all your friends!"

There they go again: this Flutterby entry points to another sad story of a family traumatized by the State because some photo clerk or something got freaked out by some family pictures that included a naked little kid. Are we a society of lunatics, or what?

Here are the top phrases searched:

- 3 for "mery"
- 1 for "chacon"
- 1 for "gizmonaut"
- 1 for "iris chacon"
- 1 for "mia"

Have you seen Google Answers? I don't think it's going to take over the world the way Google Search has, but it's kinda fun. I like this one.

Tuesday, May 7, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

May we never recover.

May there always be no escape.

So M is Book Fair Chair for the PTA Buy One Get One Free Spring Book Fair at the little boy's school (Scholastic refers to these fairs as "Bogos"). And the Powers that Be (TPTB) at Scholastic don't go out of their way for Bogos. In this case, they didn't send very many bags for the little children to carry away their books in.

So (so) at M's suggestion I stopped at the local A&P (on the way to the Barnes & Noble to buy a particular book for the little boy), and I went up to the desk, and I told the pretty teenage girl behind the desk (long-time readers may remember our pet theory about the pretty high-school girls who run the world) about the Book Fair and the bags, and I asked if I might have some of the bags that they use for groceries. She paged some guy named Vinny (hundreds of people, because of me, heard a voice saying "Vinny, please dial 101, Vinny dial 101 please"), and he called her, and he apparently told her that the bags come in boxes of 1000, and she asked me if a box of 1000 would be okay, and I said I certainly wouldn't mind.

So (so) she led me over to a closed cashier's station, and bent down and lifted up an opened (but full) cardboard box of plastic grocery bags, and I took them from her and thanked her, and brought them home for M.

I thought that was nice.

Monday, May 6, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

She came in from the back yard and found him standing in the door to the kitchen, crying, tears wet on his face.

"What's wrong?"

He doesn't cry, hardly ever cries. She remembers his tears when the children were born (once frightened and relieved, once calm and joyful), remembers him crying, his head buried in her lap, when his grampa died.

"It's just," he sniffs, closes his eyes, more drops squeezed out between the lids, "I've been --" and he stops to wipe his eyes.

She thinks, in that instant, of all the thing he might be about to say. I've been seeing someone else. I've been thinking about our future. I've been trying to find a way to tell you. I've been...

"Peeling onions."

Hot Italian sausages and onions for dinner last night, in fact. Good stuff.

Some interesting reader responses have come in to Saturday's entry on the Hollings-Disney Act. We'll let it accumulate a bit before doing anything about it; keep those cards and letters coming.

A random fragment from the "recent searches that found us" log, in alphabetical order:

pictures from "The murder at the Vicarage"
pictures nude pregnant
pictures of Bavarian naked ladies
pictures of bifocals
pictures of chess pieces
pictures of iris chacon
pictures of making bread
pictures of medieval women giving brith
pictures of mistreatment slaves
pictures of shapes of the clitoris
pictures of short order cooks
pictures of snails
pictures of tawny kitaen
pictures of tolkein
pictures of tragedy and comedy
pictures of volvagia
pictures of women getting dental work
pictures on comedy and tragedy
pictures on inward & outward flow reaction turbines
pictures on the making of bread

The teevee and the radio keep referring to the notes from the mailbox bomber as "anti-government messages". This is not an anti-government message; this is an "I'm a total schizo" message. This is not a person who objects to the government on political or social grounds; this is a person who gets messages from his teeth.

Which isn't to say that the actions aren't serious, or that the perpetrator shouldn't be stopped. But it's not really fair to put this person in the "anti-government" set.

Noted pundit Francis Fukuyama points out that Libertarianism is dead, for two interesting reasons:

  • After the events of September 11th, it's no longer possible to desire a smaller government, because only very large governments can reliably prevent terrorists from flying airplanes into tall buildings, and
  • Everyone but the Libertarians realize that parents cannot be allowed any control over the genes of their children, because parents are imperfect and might make mistakes; instead, everyone realizes that this control must be put into the hands of governments, which are perfect and never make mistakes.

(Along these same lines, see our list from last November about why cloning is bad, and must be stopped.)

Fukuyama is most famous, of course, for pointing out in 1989 that history was over, and nothing interesting was ever going to happen again. With a prescient track record like that, it's no wonder he's constantly being published in the Wall Street Journal and stuff.

Steve points us to this very heartening evidence for the continued presence of some sanity in the world.

Good old Guninski points us at the less important, but still depressing, fact that computer security is really broken (in particular, since Microsoft has released at least one buggy ActiveX control signed with their signing key, and there's no way in heck they're going to revoke that key, the "security model" upon which the world's most widely deployed retail operating system depends is basically worthless).

Reasonably Clever.

Saturday, May 4, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

It's fun to violate
  the D - M - C - A!
It's fun to violate
  the D - M - C - A!

You can archive your tunes!
You can share over cable!
You can annoy
  the record labels!

So someone whose opinions I generally respect opined that I had somewhat overstated the case when I noted the other day that the Content Cabal is attempting to outlaw the general purpose computer. Then at lunch someone said that the CBDTPA (aka the Hollings-Disney Act) wasn't a very big deal in itself, since it doesn't make anything happen unless the Content Cabal and the technology companies and the consumer groups all agree, and that'll never happen, and anyway it doesn't specify any penalties or anything.


Here's a copy of the Act from Politech, so you can follow along. It's not all that long, and it's mostly in English. Let's see what sorts of things it actually does.

First off, what do I mean by "general purpose computer"? I take it as relatively uncontroversial that a general purpose computer is a device that can read in digital data from various sources and media, perform arbitrary (arbitrary implementable) transforms on that data, and write the data back out to various sinks and media. Devices that do those things have been really important to recent developments in technology, and even culture, and the fact that they can do those things is exactly the reason they have been important. Not an accident or an incident or a side effect, but the Big Deal.

Section 5(a): A manufacturer, importer, or seller of digital media devices may not

(1) sell, or offer for sale, in interstate commerce, or

(2) cause to be transported in, or in a manner affecting, interstate commerce,

a digital medial device unless the device includes and utilizes standard security technologies that adhere to the security system standards adopted under section 3.

Hm, okay, so I can't sell or carry around a computer unless it includes and utilizes technologies that adhere to the stuff in section 3. (There's some other stuff I can't do also, but we'll concentrate on this bit for now.) What happens to me if I do that?

Section 7(a): The provisions of section 1203 and 1204 of title 17, United States Code, shall apply to any violation of this Act as if -- (1) a violation of section 5 or 6(a)(1) of this Act were a violation of section 1201 of title 17, United States Code

Section 1201 of title 17 is "Circumvention of Copy Protection Systems"; our old unconstitutional friend the DMCA. So what do sections 1203 and 1204 of Title 17 say about penalties for violators of Section 1201? Here's a little snippet:

1204(a): Any person who violates section 1201 or 1202 willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain

(1) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and

(2) shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, for any subsequent offense.

There you go; just a little slap on the wrist, really. No more than half a million dollars, or a measly five years in the slammer. Or both. And section 1203 gives your competitors the right to sue you six ways from Sunday, as well.

So if I want to sell a computer, it has to implement the stuff in the CBDTPA section 3, or I have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and go to jail for years (for the first offense). Now what does section 3 say?

It says lots of stuff, about how the "security system standards" shall be decided on (we'll get back to that) and what they have to be like, and so on, but the bit about what they actually have to do is nice and succinct. Section F, misleadingly titled "Means of Implementing Standards" reads:

The security system standards adopted under subsection (b), (c), or (g) shall provide for secure technical means of implementing directions of copyright owners for copyrighted works.

So there you go. If I sell or carry around a computer, that computer must "include or utilize" certain "technologies" for "implementing directions of copyright owners for copyrighted works". So if Disney puts a copy of "The Lion King" onto the Net, and that copy contains a standard encoding of "don't let anyone watch more than the first ten minutes of this unless they can prove they have a license for it", or "don't let anyone make more than one copy of this", my computer must implement those directions.

So by the definition of "general purpose computer" above my computer may not, under penalty of fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and years in jail, be a general purpose computer.

Some people have the impression that none of this matters, because even if the Act were to pass none of the rules would go into effect until all parties involved agree on the details of the "security system standards", and that agreement will never happen. Flip to section (3)(c), though, and you will see that if the FCC decides that, within a year after the Act is passed, the private sector isn't making convincing progress toward consensus on security system standards, then the FCC is instructed to make the rules itself. And at most two years after that, the rules go into effect.

So there's no escape hatch there.

Now there are lots of exclusions and exemptions and loopholes in the Act that I've skipped over; you should read it yourself. If I have an old pre-Act general purpose computer, I'm still allowed to sell that. The standard security systems can't keep me from exercising a rather narrowly-defined subset of fair use rights in order to record the game off of cable in order to watch it later (the Supremes have declared that such behavior doesn't violate copyright). The "software portion" of the security standards must be open source (so at least I probably can't be required to implement something I can't see).

But, loopholes notwithstanding, if I decide to start up a little company in my garage producing general purpose computers, and I don't have the time or ability or skill or desire to include the stuff that keeps users from copying the Lion King, it's the slammer for me.

And of course if I do include the stuff that keeps users from copying the Lion King, I'm not making general-purpose computers any more. I'm making devices that carry out the instructions of the copyright holders; if and when that leaves any room for discretion, it can then do what the user asked it to.

(Whose instructions do you want your computer to be designed to obey: yours or Disney's? Yours or Microsoft's?)

There are tons of subtlties. Exactly what devices have to include this stuff? A computer, obviously. An Ethernet cable or a USB hub, perhaps not. A CD-ROM writer? Not clear. Exactly which devices have to contain stuff is probably one of the details to be worked out in the Security Systems Standards themselves.

Someone suggested that it's always been a crime to use a computer to violate copyright, so this isn't anything big and new. But I think it is. It's like the difference between making it illegal to drive over 65 miles per hour, and making it illegal to make a car that is capable of going over 65 miles per hour. It's like the difference between making it illegal to shout "fire" in a crowded theater, and making it illegal to sell any megaphone through which someone might shout "fire" in a crowded theater.

Mickey Eisner is quoted in that Business 2.0 story saying "Explain to me exactly how we're impeding innovation by asking you to help us create a technology that ends theft". But that's not what the CBDTPA does. It doesn't (just) require that some technology be developed; it also makes it illegal to not use that technology.

Mickey doesn't just want to design a special-purpose box that knows how to obey Disney's instructions with respect to digital data: he wants to make it illegal to sell a general-purpose box that doesn't care about Disney's instructions.

And that's what's so surreal.


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