Fairly Symmetrical

October 2002 Archives

10:24 PM by Eric: All alone Personal

So since Jen is spending six hours a night at rehearsal, I'm all alone every evening. It's odd how unused to this feeling I am—I get up at 7 or 7:15 in the morning, and that's the last time I see her until midnight or so, at which time it's just about time to fall into bed and do it all over again. It's surprisingly lonely.

On the other hand, apparently I'm to be listed as "Master Carpenter" on the programs. And I'm designing the show's poster/program cover (using a photo taken by Jen's youngest sister, Lindsay). So I guess there's a tiny little silver lining after all. Sort of.

10:55 AM by Eric: Software copyrights == patents Politics

I've been reading Lawrence Lessig's weblog for a few days now, and I'm really interested by his proposal to reform software copyrights. The original post is here: the coke classic. The salient graf is here:

So I say: give the inventor of code a relatively "opaque" monopoly for a truly limited time -- 5 or 7 year terms, renewable to 10 or 14 years if the inventor wants. But as part of that bargain, require that the inventor escrow the code, so that at the end of the monopoly, the public gets something useful contributed to the public domain.

There are various responses to this post; Lessig links them in a followup here. His major detractor, Ted Shelton, seems to be arguing that there's a substantive difference between patents and the proposed software copyright, in that while an expired patent merely provides all the information required to reproduce the object or process covered by the patent, the new style software copyright would provide the object or process itself. I don't think this is a substantive argument.

12:24 PM by Eric: Tearless onions? Tech

Apparently a team of researchers in Japan has isolated the gene in the onion which produces the chemical that causes tears when the onion is cut. (Tearless Onions May Be on the Way (washingtonpost.com)) They're hoping they can engineer a new onion which lacks the gene, so that onions can be tear-free without any taste changes. My favorite quote from the article:

In fact, stopping the tears might mean altering the flavor in unpredictable ways, said Eric Block, an expert in the chemistry of onions at the State University of New York at Albany.

What I love about this is the idea that somewhere out there, there are people who are experts in "the chemistry of onions". I mean, is modern science great or what?

09:37 AM by Eric: Exploiting the Public Domain Culture

The O'Reilly Network has an interesting article by Richard Koman up, called Lessons from the Internet Bookmobile. The author spent 10 days traveling across the country in a bookmobile. This particular bookmobile was a little different in that it didn't actually carry any books; instead,

Loaded in the back of the Bookmobile were an HP duplexing color printer, a couple of laptops, a desktop binding machine, and a paper cutter. On top was a MotoSat dish with Internet connection. [We took] ASCII text versions of public domain works available online and turn[ed] them into books. When the Bookmobile shows up at a school, kids get to operate the paper cutter to make books, each classroom gets a few books to keep, and everyone gets a lesson in the applications of the public domain.

The entire setup cost $15,000 (plus less than $4,000 for the van itself), a fraction of the cost of many new bookmobiles. A similar (and similarly cheap) setup could revolutionize aspects of libraries, schools, and even bookstores. Imagine walking into a library to borrow a copy of a public domain text—and being handed a freshly printed and bound copy that didn't need to be returned (because it only cost the library $1 to make).

Applications like these depend on a large, and largely digitized, public domain, another point addressed by the article. Fortunately initiatives like the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg exist to digitize our public domain works, but there's always more to do. Here's hoping the SCOTUS rules against the Bono extension act, and keeps adding to our universal data store.

07:11 PM by Eric: Close call Personal | Tech

I had a close call which ultimately turned out to be good news this week: the RAM in my personal computer died, and thus so did my PC. This is not normally considered Good News, but the RAM happens to be Crucial brand RAM, it's backed by a lifetime guarantee. I called them up, they shipped me a new stick, and I ship the dead one back to them. The only cost to me is shipping of the old stick to Crucial. Fantastic company, great customer service; don't buy RAM anywhere else.

06:01 PM by Eric: Analogizing General Purpose Computers Tech

I ran across this article in LawMeme: Turing Universal Machine Threat to All Mankind. That article references this blog by Edward Felton. A quote from Felton's post:

If you're designing a computer, you have two choices. Either you make a general-purpose computer that can do everything that every other computer can do; or you make a special-purpose device that can do only an infinitesimally small fraction of all the interesting computations one might want to do. There's no in-between…If anybody has a hint about how to [give a simple, non-technical explanation for this], please, please let me know.

The first comment on the LawMeme page tries to fulfill the request with this analogy:

A single purpose computer ist to a gerneral purpose computer as an instrument which can play only one note is to an orchestra. With a limited instrument, you can't play much in the way of music. There are some rhythmic avenues to explore, but the creativity of the player is severely limited by the device.

That doesn't really analogize the situation very well, in my opinion. Below I'll try to address the problems in this analogy, and propose one of my own.

02:28 PM by Eric: Can Verisign get any worse? Tech

Every time I read another story about Verisign, I think that surely this time the company has hit rock bottom. Turns out the tiny, uber-cynical portion of me is actually still correct: they haven't. Now they're demanding that a professor at the UCLA Law School send them a copy of a utility bill to prove that the Law School's mailing address is valid, even though Volokh sent them a copy of the listing in the American Association of Law Schools Directory of Law Teachers.

Oh, in a similar vein I forgot to post last week that, in another wonderful display of their technological savvy, it appears Network Solutions/Verisign forgot to reregister their own (UK) domain name in August, and someone sniped it out from under them. As of this writing, there's a mildly humorous Flash audio bit attached, so stay a moment and listen.

10:15 PM by Eric: New member of the family Personal

No, we aren't having a child. But there is a new member of the family. He's a German Shepherd mix, slightly younger and slightly bigger than Cara. They seem to be getting along quite well, though I'm not sure how long some of the furniture will withstand their roughhousing. We're not entirely sure what to call him; the Humane Society was using Smoky, but he's not really a smoky sort of dog to us, so who knows. Pictures forthcoming as soon as we take some… and I need to edit my site graphic.

Update: Okay, so it turns out to be quite fortuitous that I was watching All Dogs Go To Heaven yesterday afternoon, because our new dog strongly reminds me of the protagonist—one Charlie by name. So we've sort of "renamed" the new dog Charlie.

09:53 AM by Eric: My favorite season Personal

The weather yesterday reminded me just how much I love fall. Sweater weather, just cool enough that you can see a hint of your breath in the morning, the kind of day that makes you want to take a big mug of coffee and sit out on a back porch somewhere just enjoying the way the air defines the word crisp. Walking outside in that weather is like a sharp shock that always gets my brain going—which at 7:30 in the morning can be a real trick.

09:21 AM by Eric: Some more good news in the Copyright Wars Culture | Politics | Tech

There's a couple of encouraging developments in the War on Fair Use. Two bills have been introduced to Congress (though they will almost certainly sit still until the next session) which would return significant Fair Use rights to consumers of digital media, mostly removed by the DMCA. The first is the Digital Choice and Freedom Act. The DCFA would explicitly provide consumers with the same Fair Use rights with digital media they enjoy with analog media (such as cassettes and VCR tapes), among them the right to make personal copies and compilations.

The second act in question is the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act. This act would counteract the portions of the DMCA which make circumventing copy-protection schemes illegal even for uses previously covered under Fair Use. Essentially the act would make it legal to bypass the copy protection on a DVD in order to make a backup copy or to extract clips from the film for use in a personal compilation. (Currently even attempting to bypass such protections is illegal.) This has very, very important consequences for digital research—there have been a number of important cases where legitimate academic researchers have had their research shut down (or chilled, which amounts to the same thing proactively) by the threat of prosecution. The bill also would extend some pretty strong protection to devices which merely are "capable of enabling significant non-infringing use of a copyrighted work", in stark contrast to the DMCA's inverse requirement.

As noted, the bad news is that neither of these bills will go anywhere until next session—and in fact, probably neither will be passed. The hope is that by introducing two such bills, Congress will be forced to address the issue somehow—preferably by repealing or significantly reworking the DMCA itself.

This provides a unique opportunity, since there is an election coming up, after all (nice timing by the bills' supporters). Send the candidates in your area letters or e-mails requesting that they clarify their stance on the two bills in question, and vote your conscience. It's time the consumers had a say in the Rape of Copyright.

Saw this via Ars Technica.

04:15 PM by Eric: Are we using the same dictionary? Politics

From today's UPI story entitled Blix: Iraq accepts all UN inspector rights:

"On the question of access, it was clarified that all sites are subject to immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access," he said in his statement.

Which sounds like a good thing. It conjures up visions of a group of Marines standing watch over the guards of a suspected WMD lab while inspectors search it over the loud protests of a commandant. Au contrare, my naive friend:

"However, the Memorandum of Understanding of 1998 established special procedures for access to eight presidential sites."

Come again? Either "all sites are subject to immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access", or they're not. You can't have unrestricted access to "all sites" and yet have to jump through hoops to inspect some sites.

We're not talking about a couple of country cottage retreats, either; the presidential palaces comprise "hundreds of acres both within and outside of Baghdad." You can hide a hell of a lot of weaponry -- conventional or otherwise -- in hundreds of acres.

Blix is claiming this as a victory, which disappoints me. I had hoped he might actually prove to be up to his nominal job. Instead he's basically invited Iraq to pick up right where they left off in '98, playing hide and seek with the inspectors. Anytime the inspectors get too close to actually finding anything worthwhile, doubtless the trail will lead to a presidential palace, and by the time the "special requirements" have been satisfied, the game will have started all over.

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