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Week of 30 April 2007

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Monday, 30 April 2007
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08:28 - Busy week this week. I'm trying to get the astronomy book finished up, and we have out-of-town guests arriving for a long weekend. I'm thinking I should probably block off the chemistry lab, which was formerly the kitchen in the downstairs guest suite. It wouldn't do to have them tottering in there for a late-night snack.

I also had a busy weekend, mostly doing tech-support stuff. I finally got my friend's data migrated off his old notebook system and onto his new one, by the simple expedient of removing the encryption from his data directories and installing a third-party DVD burning application. I also left him with a copy of DBAN, in both bootable CD and Windows executable forms, with instructions on how to wipe the hard drive before he sends the old notebook back to his corporate IT department. At least he now has multiple copies of his data, both on the new system's hard drive and on several sets of DVDs.

Then yesterday I spent some time over at the home of our friends Mary and Paul doing some fettling of their Linux box. They're back up and running, although they need to buy a good new keyboard to replace the junk loaner I installed temporarily.

It seems the rootkit fiasco wasn't enough. Sony has apparently lost it entirely: Slaughter: Horror at Sony's depraved promotion stunt with decapitated goat. Complete with topless serving wenches, yet. I put Sony on my personal do-not-buy list years ago, and nothing I've seen since has given me cause to reconsider. This latest outrage should convince a lot of other people to boycott Sony as well. This is one corporation that richly deserves to die.


Tuesday, 1 May 2007
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08:37 - I'd hoped to have finished the final chapter of the new astronomy book today, but I'm still plugging away at it. I should have it finished this week, after which I'll restart work on the home chem lab book.

UPS showed up yesterday with a box from Antec. I've been having problems with the external hard drive enclosures I've been using. The fans have failed in two of them, and the first sign of a problem was that the hard drive started misbehaving, presumably because of overheating. These were relatively inexpensive KingWin units; I think I paid $35 each for them. I decided to look for something better, and when I noticed that Antec had a new external hard drive enclosure, I had to get my hands on some samples.

The Antec Veris MX-1 Actively-Cooled Hard Drive Enclosure sells for about twice the price of those KingWin units, but the reason for that price differential is obvious just by looking at the unit. Instead of a cheap stamped aluminum body, the MX-1 uses laminate construction similar to that used in their high-end cases. Instead of just a USB 2.0 port, the MX-1 includes both USB 2.0 and eSATA ports. There's an eSATA cable in the box, and for those whose computers don't provide an eSATA port, Antec includes a cliffhanger bracket that extends an internal SATA port to the back panel. Instead of a standard power brick, Antec provides one of those pig-in-a-python power bricks with detachable cables on both ends. Finally, they provide a snap-on plastic stand that allows the unit to be used vertically.

It'll be a while before I can do any real testing on these units, but I have to say that judging solely by their appearance I expect them to work well. I'll be interested in learning how they work in eSATA mode. Until now, all my external hard drives have been USB 2.0. In theory, USB 2.0 provides 480 megabits/sec throughput, or 60 MB/s. In practice, it provides more like 25 MB/s, which is noticeably slower than copying from one internal hard drive to another. With eSATA, there shouldn't be any speed difference. Of course, as far as the system is concerned, an eSATA drive is just like any other SATA drive, which probably means I'll have to manually mount and dismount the drive. If so, that's a small price to pay.

I see that the Supreme Court has decided to tighten the rules for granting patents, an action that's long overdue but did not go far enough. Based on their decision yesterday, it should become much easier to challenge patents on the grounds of obviousness. In particular, that should be true for software patents, which shouldn't exist anyway. (Actually, if it were up to me, I'd eliminate patents entirely; companies used to depend on trade secrets, which should still be the primary means of protecting so-called IP that is now protected under patent.)

I would like to see the Supreme Court go further by making it possible to challenge a patent successfully merely by gathering sworn statements from third parties who state that the claimed innovations protected by a questioned patent are in fact obvious to them. If one person so attests, that might be questioned. If 10 or 100 or 1,000 people so attest, the patent should be voided automatically.

The recent problems Vonage has had with Verizon's patent claims are a case in point. Those patents should never have been granted, on at least two grounds. First, the key patent that Vonage tripped over was Verizon's patent on mapping an IP address to a telephone number. Talk about obvious. Duh. How else would one implement a VoIP telephone network? Which brings up the second ground for voiding the patent. When there's only one way to do something, it's not patentable. In essence, by granting Verizon that over-broad patent, the USPTO granted Verizon a monopoly on connecting VOiP to the POTS network. Once again, duh.


Wednesday, 2 May 2007
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08:39 - The MPAA, it seems, is issuing a blizzard of DMCA take-down notices to web sites that dare publish the number:


Which seems to make this number one that we'll all want to keep handy. I'm not sure what the MPAA thinks they can accomplish. The words "cat" and "bag" come to mind. By now, everyone who has need of this number has it, or at least has a friend or friends who do.

I'm not sure by what justification these DMCA take-down notices are being issued. Certainly, it's not possible to copyright a string of hexadecimal numbers. And if the MPAA is attempting to claim that this number is a trade secret, well by definition it is no longer a secret. It's been in wide circulation for months now, and by the most favorable reckoning there certainly must be literally millions of people who have it in their possession.

I'd have thought that the MPAA would have learned its lesson with DeCSS. Once a "secret" has been posted to even one web site, it's completely and forever out of the bag. Attempting to suppress such a secret merely guarantees that it will spread more widely and faster than it otherwise would. One definition of insanity is to repeat the same action over and over, hoping for different results. By that definition, the MPAA is insane.

I suppose I'll get a DMCA take-down notice, which will be a first for me. If so, I'll have no alternative but to remove the offending material. From this site, at least.


Thursday, 3 May 2007
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00:00 - Forgot to post...


Friday, 4 May 2007
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Please take a moment to remember the students who were murdered by the National Guard 37 years ago today at Kent State University.

09:28 - Our guests arrived yesterday, and with all the preparations for their arrival I completely forgot to post. The women are out and about, while as usual we guys are doing computer-related stuff. We'll be mostly lying around, reading, watching DVDs, relaxing, talking, and eating, so I probably won't have much to say here.

12:57 - Alas, prudence dictates taking down that interesting hexadecimal number I published earlier this week. Why? Well, there are approximately 13,256,278,887,989,457,651,018,865,901,401,704,642 reasons (give or take a couple), but the most important reason is that the MPAA isn't claiming copyright infringement, but that that number is a "circumvention" device under the DMCA. It'd be foolish to distribute a circumvention device, so, now that I understand their objection, I've voluntarily removed it.


Saturday, 5 May 2007
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08:07 - The women are up early and gone off who knows where. They were out late last night, so we just watched some guy-DVDs with lots of shooting and screaming and blood and guts. Probably more of the same tonight.


Sunday, 6 May 2007
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00:00 -


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