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Week of 12 August 2002

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Monday, 12 August 2002

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9:09 - So, after literally three weeks of trying, we finally got through to BellSouth to have a phone line installed for my mother at the nursing home. Barbara was livid, and gave the poor phone company lady a piece of her mind. For three weeks now, I've been calling all day long, typically several times a day. It's become automatic: call 780-2355, press 2, press 3, listen to ten seconds of classical music, hear the automated attendant say, "we are experiencing extremely high call volumes at this time...", listen to five more minutes of classical music, after which the commercials start for wireless service and other stuff I don't want. I've spent as long as half an hour on hold before giving up, and frequently spent 10 or 15 minutes.

The really annoying thing is when instead of me giving up on them, they give up on me and simply disconnect me. That's annoying enough for anyone, but particularly annoying for me because I've programmed ACR systems and know that "disconnect the caller" is one of the options that can be programmed to shed load when call volumes are too high. So I'm fully aware that when they drop my call, it wasn't some accident or vagary of fortune, but an intentional act.

At any rate, we now have a phone line installation scheduled for Friday, so my mother will finally be able to place and receive phone calls without us having to carry Barbara's cell phone over there.

Thanks to Roland Dobbins for telling me about the latest severe security hole in Internet Explorer. This one allows a man-in-the-middle attack on an SSL connection, and in effect means that SSL provides no security at all. Actually, Roland sent me two messages about this vulnerability, the second being a gentle nudge because I hadn't said anything about the problem after receiving the first message. I confess that I didn't bother to post anything about the problem because I consider IE to be so fundamentally flawed from a security viewpoint that there's little point to announcing the hole-of-the-week.

In my opinion, anyone who uses IE routinely is simply asking to be exploited. I keep IE on my systems, not that I have any choice, but I do lock it up thoroughly and use it only when there's no alternative. I use Mozilla as my default browser, and Opera as my secondary browser. About the only time I fire up IE is when I absolutely need to view a site that isn't usable with Mozilla or Opera.

All of this simply reinforces my determination to migrate to Linux. Red Hat 8.0 (or whatever they decide to call it) is looking very good indeed. More important than the maturity of the OS itself is the maturity of the applications. OpenOffice.org and Mozilla are perfectly usable now, and can only get better. Evolution is coming along nicely. There's no FrontPage equivalent, but there are any number of decent HTML editors available. The only reason I continue to use FrontPage is for its site management functions, and the truth is that I could eliminate the need for those simply by dumping the entire contents of each of my web sites into a single directory rather than trying to organize them in a hierarchical directory structure. It's nice to be able to move a file and have FrontPage automatically fix all the links in files that point to it, but I can live without that capability if I need to.


Tuesday, 13 August 2002

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10:05 - I should have mentioned that the IE SSL security hole I publicized yesterday also applies to at least one other browser, Konqueror on Linux. There's some question as to whether Mozilla is vulnerable. It appears not to be, but that may be more by accident than by design. At any rate, Konqueror is now fixed, while IE remains vulnerable. No surprise there. Open Source stuff gets fixed a lot faster than Closed Source stuff. Well, that's not fair. Opera is Closed Source, and it's fixed, too. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that anything gets fixed faster than Microsoft stuff.

There's also an interesting article on The Register about a German site's attempts to prevent so-called "deep linking" to it. I have never understood on what basis sites attempt to prevent deep linking. They usually claim copyright violation, but there's clearly no violation of copyright going on. A link, whatever its form, is simply an address or pointer. The HTML document that contains it has no text that is copyrighted by the target site, so how can there be any copyright violation?

The same thing is true of images. If I create an HTML document that contains an embedded pointer to an image hosted on another site, all I've included is an address. Although that page when displayed also displays the image, that rendering is done locally by the browser being used to display my HTML page. Let's use Barbara's site as an example. If I decide to display her photograph on this page, I can do so in at least two ways:

First, I can save that image file to my server, and embed the image in my page, like so:

In this case, the code reads: <img border="0" src="../../images/photo-bft.jpg" width="120" height="120"> That's clearly a copyright violation. I did not have the right to copy that image file, so by storing it on my server and pointing to the local copy, I have violated Barbara's copyright.

Second, I can embed just a link in my HTML page, and cause that image to be retrieved from Barbara's server and displayed in my page, like so:

In this case, the code reads: <img border="0" src="http://www.fritchman.com/images/photo-bft.jpg" width="120" height="120"> That's clearly not a copyright violation. The image does not reside on my server. All I've done is embed a link in my HTML code that allows the browser of the person reading my page to retrieve the image himself. There can be no copyright violation because this page does not exist in the form to which the copyright holder objects until it is rendered locally by the user's browser.

I find it interesting that many of the people who object most strenuously to deep links also claim copyright on material that they do not own. For example, one herbalist site has many images of various plants that can be used for pharmaceutical purposes. The owner objects strongly to having her images linked to, and yet this same woman claims copyright on images she's scanned of various old medical and herbal books, which are in the public domain. I emailed her to say that reproducing public domain material in a different form no more gives her the right to claim copyright on that PD material than photocopying the old books would entitle her to claim copyright on the photocopies. I never did hear back from her on that one.

It seems to me that there's a simple answer here: If you don't want people to link to your material, don't post it on the web.



Wednesday, 14 August 2002

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9:09 - I've gotten numerous comments on my post of yesterday, both by private mail and on the messageboard. I'll let this exchange with Gary Berg represent them:

-----Original Message-----
From: Gary M. Berg
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2002 2:27 PM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: Linking


Hmm, in the first case you are putting a load on your own server (you referenced a file which you did have access to). In the second case you are linking to a file on another server (whether it's really another physical server is not of importance here). In the second case, at least, you are consuming bandwidth on the other person's server without their permission. If they pay for bandwidth, you could truly be costing them money to benefit your site, not their own.

That could be one reason why the person running the herbalist site complains; putting traffic on her site to support your own site hardly seems fair.

Weren't you the one who complained about suddenly having huge traffic to your boring grass picture ("most boring picture on the internet") when it was linked on another site?

OK to publish, but don't post my email address.


This email was sent without any attachment and should have arrived without any. If there are attachments, DON'T OPEN THEM!

But that other person chose to run that server and chose to post that file and chose to agree to pay overage charges for bandwidth. If someone links to it, tough. They wouldn't be able to link to it if it weren't there, or if the site owner had password-protected it or otherwise controlled access. When you put a file up on the web, you're basically posting a sign that says, "Free. Take one." If more people than you expect take advantage of that, that's your problem, not theirs, and certainly not the problem of whoever told them where to find it.

Yes, I did get slashdotted, more than once in fact, and it may be aggravating, but I didn't go out and sue anyone or claim copyright infringement. I simply removed the image. I posted this earlier today on the messageboard in response to a similar comment:

"Well, again, if they don't want people to retrieve their data, they shouldn't put it up on the web.

I've been "victimized" in this respect at least two or three times. Most recently, an image file I'd posted got slashdotted, with a direct deep link to the image file itself, and there were thousands of downloads totaling something like a gigabyte in one day (when my allocation was 200 MB/day).

I had no grounds for complaint, any more so than does anyone else who gets slashdotted. I put it up on the web, I made it freely downloadable, so whatever happens is my own fault. "

-----Original Message-----
From: Gary M. Berg 
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2002 3:17 PM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: RE: Linking

I think that posting a file on a web server is NOT marking it as fair game for all to link to it without giving any credit to the original site. Especially the way you linked to Barbara's picture, just pasting it onto your web site with no attribution of where it came from or who the viewer might want to visit if they liked this. When people are putting up web sites for their own personal reasons and not getting any advertising income (your site advertises your book, for example, indirectly if not explicitly) whacking them with huge amounts of volume is simply impolite.

That's in some respects like copying a page out of your book and posting it on a web site with no attribution to who wrote it originally (yes, I know, this is a very flawed analogy, and copyright IS involved in this case).

Maybe you ought to go back and read what you said when it happened to you (when you were Farked): http://www.ttgnet.com/daynotes/2002/2002-07.html#Thursday 

Having re-read this, I'd say your position has changed quite a lot in the last 6-7 months.

Anyone who posts a file is perfectly free to mark it such that it credits the originating site. My own pages, for example, include my copyright notice. If I cared to do so, I could mark each image file, visibly or via a watermark, with my copyright information, home page URL, or whatever. I don't do that because such images always remind me of stuff that originates on porn sites. Obviously, I needn't mark each image (or even every page) just as a book needn't have a copyright notice on each page. My material is still copyrighted, but that gives me no right to control anything except violations of that copyright. If the image is being served from my server, there is no copyright violation, by definition. I've put it there to be downloaded by people using browsers, and that's exactly what's happening.

I certainly agree that it's impolite, but that's an entirely separate issue. I think if you re-read the page you refer to again, you'll find that my position hasn't changed at all. I think it's rude, but legal, to embed an image link as I did with Barbara's photo. I think that high-volume sites should be considerate of small sites when using such links, or indeed any other kind of link. But you'll notice that I never threatened the site that slashdotted me, nor did I send them a message asking them to cease and desist, nor did I try to argue that it wasn't my responsibility to pay for the additional bandwidth (which, fortunately, I didn't have to do because pair.com tosses out the highest volume day each month).

As you say, your analogy of the book page is not applicable, precisely because there *is* a copyright issue involved there. The page in question has physical reality, whether in printed form on page or in digitized form as a computer file. The web page with an embedded image link is a chimera. It's assembled on the fly, and has no physical reality, other than the underlying code which no one claims violates copyright. I simply deliver that code from my server to your computer. What your computer does with it occurs at your end, not at mine.

My concern is and has been for a long time that copyright is being extended ridiculously, both in term and scope. In return for copyright protection for a limited term, which itself is becoming effectively infinite, content creators cede Fair Use rights to the public at large, and agree that upon expiration of the copyright their work goes into the public domain. But under the legislative blitz sponsored and paid for by MPAA, RIAA, and other content middlemen, Fritz "Hollywood" Hollings and others like him have almost succeeded in legislating Fair Use rights away, and I'm sure plan to kill the concept of Public Domain as well.

We need to fight against all encroachments on Fair Use and Public Domain, and we need to fight all attempts to extend copyright protection in either term or scope. In fact, we need to roll back such protections to no more than those envisioned by the Founding Fathers. In my opinion, and I speak as a content-creator, a seven-year term renewable for seven more years is sufficient. Even a 14-year term renewable for 14 more years would be better than what we have now, which in effect allows Disney and other corporations to lock things up forever. Not to mention their pillaging of the Public Domain. Just try to write a story based on Cinderella or another of the PD fairy tales that Disney now claims, and see how long it takes to get a nasty letter from their lawyers. This has to stop, and the only way to stop it is to speak out loud and long about such abuses, and in particular about attempts to extend what has already gone much too far.

-----Original Message-----
From: Gary M. Berg
Sent: Wednesday, August 14, 2002 8:27 AM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: RE: Linking

I think the difference between "impolite" and "illegal" is important and I think you do too. It probably shouldn't be _illegal_ to deep link to an image or some other thing which isn't just a web page on the destination site; but it probably should be discouraged as being impolite because it does impose a burden (bandwidth) on the server that the person who has posted the content. In other words, putting a link to a discussion on Jerry P's page is fine; including a link to one of his images, such as his floating bottle or something is impolite. Especially if you do it from a high-volume site.

A good example here would be the Lockergnome newsletters. They send out notes about a number of different programs/utilities that they found, with a write-up on what the program does and all. Typically they stuff they write about is 60% freeware and the rest is shareware. They used to have a link to three things; the author's web site (at least for that program), a screen shot, and a direct link to the download. They finally eliminated the direct link to the download because they got a lot of complaints from the program authors; the people who downloaded the program never even saw the author's web pages, or descriptions, or cautions, or anything. And I think those authors had a legitimate complaint.

I would agree with you that the woman who claimed a copyright after scanning and OCR'ing public domain sources was full of it. But it isn't "fair" for other people to embed her photos in their own web pages because that put a load on her server. Not illegal, just impolite or unfair. There are lots of things that you can get away with if you want to come down to pushing the envelope as far as what's legal. But "what's fair" is a lot of the lubrication in our society that keeps people from coming to blows.

Someone running a high-volume site who found something on your site they wanted to link to (a picture, not just a link to your site), ought to contact you ahead of time and ask about possibly hosting a copy of your content on their own site. That doesn't work well with Slashdot type sites (like Fark) where stuff is contributed by users, but for a company like CNN it ought to be the norm.

I have no argument with you about the RIAA and copyright; the whole thing going on in that arena is obviously driven by business interests. Businesses don't like the way copyrights used to work because they could have a valuable asset on the books one day that was worthless the next. The same thing is true of patents. So of course they are going to push to change things so that assets remain assets for as long as possible. But government has a responsibility to balance the interests of "the people" against those of business. It typically does a lousy job of it, at least in the last 50-75 years.

Yes, and my concern is that a lot of behavior that is at worst impolite has been made illegal over the last few years, and the last thing we need is for that trend to continue. It used to be merely impolite to offend someone. Now in many cases it is actually illegal, which is outrageous. Offense is in the eye of the offended, so legislating against offensive behavior inevitably raises the question of who is to define what is offensive. As of late, the thinking seems to be that any behavior that anyone finds offensive should be banned, regardless of how easily the offended person takes offense. So now I find myself in the odd position of defending impolite behavior.



Thursday, 15 August 2002

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9:06 - On Saturday night, 17/18 August, asteroid 2002 NY40 will pass Terra at a distance of about 327,000 miles (527,000 km), little more than the radius of Luna's orbit. This asteroid is so close and moving so fast that its movement will be apparent in a small telescope, or even in a binocular. Its apparent velocity at closest approach (18 August at 0747 UCT) will be about 8 arcminutes/minute. In other words, it will be moving fast enough to cover the angle subtended by the full Luna in about 3.5 minutes. Locating it will be the hard part, but Sky & Telescope magazine offers detailed directions.

There's no chance that 2002 NY40 will strike Terra on this pass. Next time, or the time after, or the time after that, who knows? As I and others have been saying repeatedly, it's time and past time for us to build planetary defenses against objects like 2002 NY40.

More comments on the stuff I've been writing about this week.

-----Original Message-----
From: David Magda
Sent: Wednesday, August 14, 2002 10:31 PM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: easy deep linking prevention method


Interesting discussion on copyright and the web. However, what many people don't realize is that there are technical ways of preventing "deep linking". There is a tutorial on how setup an Apache web server to prevent it over at [1]. Lawyers are not needed in this process.

Basically when you click on a link, not only does the web browser send what it wants to get in the HTTP request, it also sends a "Referrer" line: where the URI that the browser is asking for was found. The web server can be configured to look at the "Referrer" and test it for the desired contents (namely that the person came from your own site).

More information on HTTP headers can be found at [2].

Thought your readers would be interested.

[1] http://apache-server.com/tutorials/ATimage-theft.html
[2] http://www.w3.org/Protocols/HTTP/HTRQ_Headers.html

David Magda <dmagda at ee.ryerson.ca>
Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under
the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well
under the new. -- Niccolo Machiavelli, _The Prince_, Chapter VI

Exactly. Many of the people who complain the loudest about deep-linking are those who are completely clueless about protecting their content. It's like opening your property as a public park and then complaining when people visit it. It's easy enough to put up the electronic equivalent of "Private! Keep Out!" signs around the content you want to protect, so I have little sympathy for people who don't do that and then complain about how many visitors they get or how those visitors access their content.

-----Original Message-----
From: Gary Mugford
Sent: Thursday, August 15, 2002 12:08 AM
To: webmaster@ttgnet.com
Subject: A view or three


Glad to see your mother is on the road to recovery. I lost my own grandmother to a fractured hip. So I sympathize very much. I'm happy that she's a fighter and is making it through the injury.

At any rate, your postings of the last two days inspired three memories. The first was a girlfriend who took umbrage when I opened the passenger door of my car for her. I took offence to her taking offence (I open the door for ALL passengers and wait for them to be seated before going round and getting into the driver seat). End of budding romance. Second memory is when I stopped referring to the native American names for the Atlantas and Clevelands baseball teams and the Washington NFL squad. (Somehow KC's Chiefs got excepted in the process). I did this after finding out a friend found the terms offensive. I told him I disagreed with his taking offence, but that I saw no reason to continue using the terms he took offence too. As long as he understood I was doing this out of a respect for HIM and not because I thought the naming practices were wrong, everybody got along. Had he thought he'd convinced me of the rightness of his stance, I'd still be arguing to this day.

The last memory was triggered by the Snow White reference. For that, I think of the drug companies who are making slight changes in soon-to-lose-patented protection drugs and grandfathering the old versions. No matter the length of copyright, Disney will produce a NEW UPDATED VERSION OF THE TIMELESS CLASSIC, every X years, with three or four modified scenes. Can't legislate morality, and the company maw that is Disney will never have good table manners.


Gary Mugford
Idea Mechanic
Bramalea ON Canada

The problem, of course, is that "offensive" is in the eye of the beholder, and the advent of Political Correctness has made many people much too quick to take offense. We need not let our behavior be influenced by people who take offense where none is intended, and I think you err in modifying your behavior to suit the preferences of your Politically Correct friend. People who take offense too easily can go through life being offended for all I care. If I intend to be offensive, the person whom I'm offending will be in no doubt of my intent.

As to "Native Americans" and other Politically Correct circumlocutions, I simply continue to use the original forms. As it happens, I am a Native American, having been born here. Indians are no more and no less Native Americans than you or I or most residents of Central and South America. Most Indians were presumably born here as well, and if they're referring to their forebears, well their ancestors simply got here before ours did. That doesn't make them Native Americans, just descendents of earlier immigrants.

As to the woman who mistook polite behavior for an offense against her strange belief system, well you're probably better off having found out early what she was like.

11:19 - I just returned from visiting my mother, and I'm afraid she may be in the early stages of Alzheimers. Not surprising, given that she's 83, but we'd hoped to avoid that horror, and until now we thought we had. The first signs came some months ago, when Barbara commented on a personality change she'd noticed in my mother. Until then, my mother had been easy to get along with, but Barbara said my mother was becoming harder and harder to get along with. I told Barbara that I hadn't noticed, which I hadn't.

But the problem was brought home to me during this morning's visit. I'd noticed that my mom hasn't been as sharp over the past several months as she used to be. Whereas she used to do the New York Times crossword puzzle, she now limits herself to doing the daily puzzle in the local paper. The local Sunday crossword is too hard for her, and even those from later in the week are becoming a real challenge for her. I also noticed that mom has been much more irritable since she's been in the hospital and subsequently the nursing home, but I attributed that to trauma from her fall, the surgery, and the helplessness she must feel.

This morning, though, mom was in a bad mood. She's argumentative, hostile, and uncooperative, and that's a marked departure from her usual personality. She complains frequently now, also, which is again a change from her normal behavior. This morning, she was complaining about being moved to her lift chair. She begged us to move the lift chair to the nursing home, because she said it was much more comfortable than the bed. Now, she just wants to stay in the bed, and complains every time they tell her they're going to move her to the chair.

This morning, she told me that she objected to being moved to her chair in part because the table where she keeps all her stuff is on the left side of her bed whereas the chair is on the right. I told her that the table has wheels, and all she had to do was ask the staff to roll the table over next to the chair after they moved her. She got upset with me for suggesting that. Then she said that even if the table were next to her, she wouldn't be able to reach things. I suggested that she use the gripper that Barbara brought over to the nursing home. Mom said the gripper was at home, and I said that I didn't realize that Barbara had taken it back home. Mom then told me that it had always been at home and had never been at the nursing home. I told her that it had been and asked if she didn't remember Barbara tying it to her bed frame with string so she wouldn't drop it. She finally did remember that, but then said that that had been in the old room and the gripper hadn't been moved to her new room. That, of course, is wrong, but she was getting so upset that I didn't bother to look for it.

About then, the aide showed up in response to mom's having pushed her call button a few minutes previous. She'd told me that she wanted to ask about the pain pill and bed pan, but when the aide came in my mother couldn't remember what she'd pushed the button for. I'm noticing more and more of these short-term memory lapses, which really concern me.

The staff had told her that they were going to give her a pain pill and put her on the bedpan before they moved her to her lift chair. My mom told me that they'd forget to give her the pain pill, which of course they won't, and then started complaining about the bed pan. It's a plastic device, and she said that the edges cut into her when she was on it. Fair enough. She wanted the staff to pad the edge with a towel. I wasn't sure how they could do that, but they certainly tried. They couldn't figure out how to do it, which soon became apparent. My mother was muttering about how everyone thought her ideas were bad ones, and wouldn't even try them. She gets strange ideas and then acts as though they're fact, no matter how much Barbara, the staff, or I try to dissuade her. So we found ourselves at a bed pan impasse.

Mom had mentioned some days ago that she'd prefer the old style metal bed pan with a wide edge, so I asked the staff if they had such a thing, or at least a plastic bed pad with a wider rim. They went off in search of that, leaving me alone with my mother. She started going on at me about getting her in trouble by asking for a different bed pan. When the aide came back, she told me in the hall that they did have bed pans with wider rims, but that the therapist didn't want them using them for mom because they would place too much stress on her hips and legs, possibly causing a spontaneous fracture. I asked her if she wanted me to tell mom about the problem, and she was obviously relieved that I was willing to do it. When I told her, my mother acted as though we were making up an excuse for not letting her have what she wanted.

I see evidence in my mother of hostility, argumentativeness, constant criticism, lack of cooperation, and a persecution complex. She's mentioned more than once lately that she expects me to be "on her side" but that she thinks I'm on "their side", as though there were sides here. I'm not a physician, but I believe that these are all signs of incipient Alzheimers. I decided I'd better let someone in a position of authority know, so I stopped by the office to talk to Lea, who's the Head of Nursing. She was out, but I'm going to talk to her this afternoon about our concerns and see if there's anything to be done. Certainly, I want the doctor to be aware of what's going on. I understand that there are now drugs available that can reduce the severity and lengthen the onset of Alzheimers, so I want to talk to the doctor about it myself.

This is not good.


Friday, 16 August 2002

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11:09 - Thanks to everyone who responded via private mail and the messageboard to my post yesterday about our concerns for my mother's mental state. Many of these messages offered good advice based on experience with older friends and relatives, and Barbara and I appreciate all of them.

Barbara called yesterday on her way home from playing golf with her father, and I told her about what had happened. She suggested she just stop by to visit my mother on the way home, which made sense. While she was there, she spoke to Lea, who's the Head of Nursing. Lea told her that Alzheimers was possible, but there were a lot of other possibilities, including the aftereffects of trauma from her fall and surgery, depression, and so on. They're going to schedule a visit from their house psychologist to evaluate mom's state. In the interim, we'll just keep on keeping on.

And the phone company is supposed to be installing a phone line for mom today, finally, which will help a lot.

I found this article via Slashdot yesterday, and it provides an interesting window on things to come as DRM becomes ubiquitous. It's also one of the reasons that I'll never install XP (other than on a testbed system to take screenshots for books) and why I haven't yet installed W2K SP3. Note that the problem is with MP3 files that this guy ripped from his own CDs, and which his Fair Use rights guarantee he has the right to use on his own computers. But XP's DRM functions have impaired his ability to do that, which is a good reason to avoid XP.

None of us need an operating system one of whose major purposes is to make our life more difficult, and to prevent us from exercising our rights under copyright law. But, as I mentioned years ago, this is the direction Microsoft is heading. When Microsoft asks "Where do you want to go today?" my answer is "Certainly not where you're trying to take me." For now, Windows 2000 remains a viable choice, at least for me. But as new security holes arise and the patches for them also install unasked-for and unwanted DRM software and force us to accept more restrictive licensing provisions than applied to the product we bought and paid for, Windows 2000 (or indeed any other Microsoft product) becomes less and less viable.

Fortunately, there's an excellent alternative out there. It's called Linux. Now all we have to do is make sure it remains a good alternative, by preventing Fritz "Hollywood" Hollings and the other scumbag legislators that the MPAA and RIAA have bought and paid for from killing Linux with their legislative sledgehammers. Hollings and his cohorts should be in federal prison for what they've done and continue to do. So should the MPAA and RIAA executives who have bribed them.

The Register reports that Microsoft is soft-pedaling the recently-announced security hole in SSL. That, of course, is their standard response when a hideous, gaping security hole arises for which they have no patch. Fortunately, as The Register says, there's an easy workaround. Just install Mozilla. I'm still using Mozilla 1.0, but Tom Syroid told me yesterday that he's been using the current Mozilla 1.1 Beta, and it's rock-solid. For some reason, the Microsoft Security PR Bulletin (what an interesting concept) doesn't mention this workaround. They do, however, take their usual course of blaming the people who discovered the flaw.



Saturday, 17 August 2002

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9:22 - I got a call yesterday from my mother, telling me that the phone company guy was there and wanted her to test the phone. Works fine, both directions. She sounded very cheerful. Having a phone there will also make life easier for us, because sometimes we can call instead of driving over.

Bob Walder took issue with my comments yesterday about Microsoft and DRM. I won't post his message, because the last time I did that he got mad at me. So I'll try to paraphrase it fairly. Bob observes that although he despises DRM as much as the next guy, he thinks I was unfair in attributing DRM functions to Windows XP rather than Windows Media Player. I can always install a different MP3 player, says Bob, and anyway the DRM functions in WMP are optional and can be disabled by clearing a checkbox. To that, I responded:

Well, yes, for now you can use a different player or turn off DRM in WMP (although it is of course on by default, which is no coincidence). But how much longer will that be true? I said it was a taste of things to come. Or perhaps you have a Pollyanna view of what is to come? If you think DRM is going to remain optional in Microsoft software, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. Microsoft is famous for their frog-boiling methods. As they say, if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it jumps out. But if you put the frog in a pot of cold water and bring the pot slowly to a boil, the frog will let itself be cooked. Microsoft clearly regards its customers as frogs.

I've had it with Microsoft. Not so much their software itself, which is buggy and has many security holes. That I could live with. What I object to is their licensing. I refuse to pay a recurring rental for my software, which is what Licensing 6 amounts to, and I refuse to accept additional, more restrictive, terms in a software agreement for a patch which Microsoft's own incompetence has made necessary.

Bob refers to my comments as "Microsoft Bashing", but I don't see them in that light. I catch hell from Microsoft partisans for pointing out the obnoxious things about Microsoft and their software, and I also catch hell from Linux partisans when I point out that the emperor has no clothes. For the record, I'll say it again:

What I like about Microsoft Windows and Windows applications

  • they are more polished, and generally more functional than the OSS equivalents, at least in the sense that most ordinary users regard functionality.

  • they are generally much easier to install, use, and update than OSS operating systems and applications

  • they are generally better supported by hardware vendors and third-party software vendors.

What I dislike about Microsoft Windows and Windows applications

  • they have more holes than Swiss cheese.

  • they use proprietary file formats designed to lock us into Microsoft products and make our data hostage to Microsoft.

  • they are closed source, which greatly restricts or eliminates our ability to use, update, or modify them other than on Microsoft's terms.

  • security patches often require accepting additional, more restrictive licensing terms than those under which the product was originally licensed.

  • Microsoft seems determined to transition to a rental model, and I refuse to pay by the month to use their software

  • Microsoft is apparently in bed with the MPAA, RIAA and other Copyright Nazis.

  • Microsoft is apparently in bed with Ernst "Hollywood" Hollings and the other legislators that seem determined to eliminate our rights.

What I like about Linux and OSS applications

  • they are generally much more robust and free of security flaws than Microsoft products.

  • they use standards-based file formats, which don't hold our data hostage.

  • they are licensed under the GPL and similar licenses, which ensure our rights to continue to use, update, and modify the software as best suits our needs.

  • security patches are released quickly, and under non-restrictive terms.

  • OSS is free-as-in-speech, and much of it is free-as-in-beer.

  • OSS puts the users' interests ahead of those of the MPAA, RIAA, and other large corporate interests.

  • OSS generally regards attempts at censorship as a bug and works around them.

What I dislike about Linux and OSS applications

  • although they are robust and functional in server-space, OSS operating systems and applications aren't quite "here yet" for desktop use, at least from the viewpoint of ordinary users.
  • One of the great strengths of OSS is diversity, but that is also one of its greatest flaws. For example, being able to choose among a dozen window managers is wonderful for Linux power users, but is confusing for newbies like me, who simply want a functioning Linux desktop.
  • Installation and configuration is still much harder for OSS software than for Microsoft software. Choosing a mainstream distribution like Red Hat means using the hateful RPM package management, with its plethora of dependency problems. Alternatively, choosing a better package management utility like apt-get or emerge means choosing a non-mainstream or newbie-hostile distribution like Gentoo.

I'm sure there are many other points in each of those four categories, but those are the ones that immediately came to mind as I was writing this. On balance, I find myself coming down in the Linux/OSS camp, not because I'm a Linux partisan (let alone a Linux bigot), but because I perceive that for Linux and OSS applications the advantages outweigh the drawbacks, while for Microsoft and Windows applications the converse is true. Right now, Windows and Windows applications are the better choice for many, probably most, people. But that is changing, as OSS developers improve their products almost daily. Conversely, Microsoft has taken the classic steps of a company under siege. They're circling their wagons, and using every means they can think of to destroy Linux and OSS. If they win, they're the only ones that benefit. All of us lose. If OSS wins, we all benefit, and only Microsoft loses. I know which I'd choose.



Sunday, 18 August 2002

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9:26 - It seems clear now that the two bodies found in Britain are those of ten-year-old friends Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. A local child is also missing, nine-year-old Jennifer Renee Short, and all of us are hoping for the best but fearing the worst. As Barbara observed yesterday, what the hell is going on? It seems as though another child goes missing every week lately, and all too often those children are found murdered. Or, as in the case of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, never found at all.

Any parent with a young child must be terrified by this recent blizzard of child stealing and murder. Even when the parents and children do everything right, as was true with 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, that's no guarantee that a child will not be abducted and murdered. Obviously, something needs to be done to prevent this from happening, but what? Since actions taken after the fact are usually too late to save the child, it seems to me that something needs to be done before the fact. The only practical thing I can think of is to deter would-be child kidnappers and murderers, and the only way I can think of to deter them is to make it quite clear that kidnapping and murdering a child will inevitably result in their capture followed by a slow, agonizingly painful death.

We're pretty good at the first part. Obviously, there are exceptions, but many of the scum who kidnap and murder children are in fact caught. We need to work on the second part, though. A long trial followed by appeals and eventually a prison term simply isn't enough. Even the death penalty isn't enough, assuming that it's carried out by lethal injection or other humane means. A quick, painless death is too good for someone who kidnaps and murders a child.

Someone who kidnaps and murders a child should undergo at least a year of the worst torture that modern science can devise. There are drugs that function exactly the opposite of analgesics, intensifying pain rather than reducing it, and those drugs should be employed to heighten the torture experience. Once the kidnapper/murderer had suffered a year or two of the most agonizing torture we could devise, we could then execute him, preferably by short-drop or suspension hanging, so he could dance Danny Deever for ten minutes or so. All of this should be done publicly, of course pour encouragement les autres.

Some might object that Article X of the Bill of Rights prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments", but a strict constructionist would argue both that that applies only to federal courts and that a cruel punishment is acceptable as long as it is not unusual, or vice versa. So I suggest that we make torture and painful execution of child killers a "usual" punishment. We might also revive that fine idea from Merry Olde England, by declaring child kidnappers/murderers wolfsheads or outlaws. In the original sense, this meant just what it said. Someone who was declared an outlaw was outside the protection of the law. Anyone could kill him without penalty, because he enjoyed no protection under the law.

All of this might not eliminate kidnapping and murdering of children, but I suspect it'd reduce it substantially. Savagery must be met with savagery. It's the only thing these people understand.



Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.