Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Michael Moore/Bill O'Reilly clash

This is far from my usual purview, but I think everyone should read it, so I am putting the link up here. It is the Drudge Report's transcription of a clash between Michael Moore and Bill O'Reilly. Maybe I'm biased, but I think Moore came out way, way ahead.

Drudge Report

I realize it's easier to think of these things offline, but here's what I would have said to Bill: A lie is the opposite of a truth; what Bush said turned out to not be a truth; in retrospect, this means it was a lie, regardless of his beliefs at the time. Therefore Bush lied, albeit unwittingly.

And, even better, what I would have asked him: Did we go to war in Iraq by mistake? (I'd love to hear an answer to that.)

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Comments on MoveOn.org's "Fair and Balanced" suit

There is activity at the moment by MoveOn.org and the Independent Media Institute to challenge Fox News' use of the phrase "fair and balanced". A lot of this may just be marketing fluff to support the Outfoxed documentary. I am surprised, though, at how many people are very disapproving of the move. Today's complaint:

Notes from the Legal Underground: Frivolous & Bollixed

You should also read that article for the rest of its contents. While I wasn't a fan of the current action by MoveOn being referred to as "whiny", I was quite entertained by the collection of amusing newspaper self-descriptions. My favorite, for sheer "huh?" value, was: "The Gimlet -- It Bores In. (Brownsville, Ky.) Edmonson News".

Anyway, I'm really not opposed to the IMI action. Perhaps it's a waste of money, and perhaps there isn't a legal precedent, but it seems wrong to me that Fox News continues to describe themselves as "fair and balanced". And sure, maybe it's not the FTC's business to regulate that sort of thing, but clearly there have to be some limits. For example, I doubt Fox News could describe themselves as "Fair, unlike CNN". They couldn't get away with that. How about "The only fair and balanced news network"? That's a little less direct but has the same implications. Could they get away with that? Who could stop them and under what grounds? Libel suits based on implications regarding the other networks? Such a tactic would not extend to Fox News' current byline, since it's a real stretch to say they're implying other news organizations are not fair or balanced. How about laws against false advertising? I guess those are just too specific, but I'm not familiar with them.

I don't know. But I would be a happier person if something were done.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Quote of the day: Sen Hatch

Via p2pnet.net (and washingtonpost.com):

"If you help us, we just might get it [INDUCE] right, but if you don't we're going to do it [anyway]"
- Senator Orrin Hatch

within the category "yeah, right"

... falls the new article purporting that extra-terrestrial life will be discovered within the next 20 years. Umm, sure. Evidently that claim was made by the SETI Institute's senior astronomer Seth Shostak. ... Wait a minute. There's a "SETI Institute"? My tax payments (all $4.68) better not be paying for that.

Original article

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

yay for vodkapundit

Again, thank you, Vodkapundit. This just started my day off right.

The Star Wars Pants Page

Friday, July 16, 2004

one of "those" days

you know the days i mean. the days when it takes you an extra 10 minutes to get ready in the morning because of all the times you just stopped doing whatever you were doing and stood still, unthinking, for a minute or two. maybe it's because i was too lazy to make coffee (i have since rectified that, but it hasn't kicked in yet), or maybe it's because i pushed myself a little too much on the track yesterday (though i didn't really do that much), or maybe it's not for any reason at all. whatever. it's not like i have a life that i need to keep up with.

here, in case you're feeling energetic, is some reading material, an index on LawMeme for all the great stuff Ernest Miller has written about the INDUCE act for his blog The Importance of.... Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The "new" DVD content control system

This is really entertaining, all these articles about the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) standard being developed by a bunch of tech companies along with Disney and Warner Brothers. Here are a few of the articles I read:

Cnet news: Tech, studio giants team on new DVD locks

Slashdot: Industry Group Would Permit (Some) DVD Copying

p2pnet.net: Hollywood DVD copying scheme

I suppose it's the successor to DeCSS: the group is attempting to define the new standard for future high definition DVD disks, the first-stage disc-level encoding that any DVD player must be able to decode in order to play the video. They are somehow bent on ensuring that the content is usable in other devices and personal home networks, which in principle is a good idea. The truth is, if tech companies do make user-friendly processes for getting your fair use rights out of the media - which for example would include allowing you to watch movies on your computer and listen to music on your iPod, allowing you to store the data on a central file server in your home network and stream it from multiple computers in your house - then a large number of people will not bother to find ways around the encoding, because simply everything they really want to do will be easy and perfectly legal. They may not be able to copy the data to their friends, but if that is the only thing technologically prevented, that won't bother too many people.

In practice, I'd be astonished if this were actually possible. Only Warner and Disney signed on to this group, so there could be other content producers who refuse to play nice. Even more than that, it's not at all clear that the new system will replace other DRM technologies - some articles such as the one on the Register imply that this will be a complete package, and others such as the CNet article linked above say clearly that they will be separate:

Members of the group said the new technology would be complementary to other digital rights management and content protection systems, such as Microsoft's Windows Media.

I don't know how far along the standard is (few details appear to be present). I do know that they're really making bold statements (it's a new fusion and market opportunity and stuff like that - as p2pnet.net puts it in their article, "equine excreta").

I also know that logic dictates that any encoding must be decodable by any DVD player. And just as DeCSS was decoded, so will this be. And laws won't stop you because there are people outside the US who also like movies. Maybe using a multiple-key system will help a bit (or at least make the descramble code too complicated to put on a T-shirt), but it won't solve the entire problem. If there's enough information in the source to allow it to be decoded then someone will figure out how to use that information to write their own decoder.

Monday, July 12, 2004

All-star game

I'm a big baseball fan, a supporter of the Red Sox for the last few years despite not ever living any nearer to Boston than Baltimore (I'll be closer next year in New Haven). But I follow a lot of teams. This is a great baseball year - every division is up for grabs.

I don't usually care very much for the All-Star game. I watched it last year, when "it counted", even though that still seems a little silly. I also watched it two years ago when the game was called a draw because both teams were using up all their pitchers. It's always been sort of a farce, and it likely always will be, because you can't really ask any of the players to give it their all (that's reserved for their teams).

But this year the All-Star game might be interesting. It seems Carlos Beltran (who played for the KC Royals in the AL for most of the season before being traded to Houston in the NL) is on both the AL and NL All-star rosters. From ESPN:

NL Roster

AL Roster

In case they notice and correct their mistake before you see it, let me quote the bottom of the AL page briefly:

** The Royals traded Carlos Beltran to the Astros after player balloting had commenced and therefore he appeared on the American League Player Ballot. Major League Baseball recognizes Beltran as an All-Star and he can participate in All-Star activities, but he cannot be named to the National League All-Star Team based on the results of the American League Player Ballot.

How cool would it be if he played for both teams? He could be a pinch-hitter.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

EULA issue ducked by Michigan court

yclipse: Court ducks EULA issue

You know, I was all excited when I read the title of this post, but it wasn't what I was looking for. This article is about a very low level of the EULA process, whether the simple process of displaying a EULA on-screen and having a user click 'Accept' constitutes a proper contract. A court decision that determined the displayed EULA/accept combination did not constitute a proper contract would be fairly dramatic and really meaningless. I don't imagine that you'll be allowed to use software without some sort of contract applying, so the details in which it is presented to you and you agree to it don't need to be nitpicked. No matter the form of the agreement, people still won't read it.

I suppose you could make a case that some forms of agreement are not clearly commitments to a contract at all, or that the contract details are not readily at hand when the agreement is presented (though this doesn't apply to the displayed EULA/accept scenario). For example, I've had software shrinkwraps that said 'opening this package implies that you agree with the EULA concerning this software', and maybe I'm too excited or too rushed to even look at that side of the shrinkwrap before opening the package. Even worse are the packages where the EULA that you're agreeing to is contained inside the package that you're opening (there's a logical braintwister for you). I remember reading an article by someone who made a purchase (I believe he bought a Dell computer in Canada), discovered he could not open or use his purchase without agreeing to a contract, and the contract was inside the package (and he couldn't find out what it was without agreeing to it). He was bothered enough by this to contact the company, who would not provide the contract any other way, and he ended up returning the item unopened. Were that sufficiently well documented I think he could have opened the package and considered the contract unenforceable.

Anyway, I had originally hoped the post would be more about the nature of EULA contracts, items that can or cannot be contained within a EULA. I've read and agreed to some pretty objectionable EULA's before (and I just do what I want anyway under the assumption that my actions won't be audited), and I'd like to see some more challenges to these.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Response to a response to a post

+++ATH0: Bannination of iPods

Dan Kalowsky replied to my post on why iPod banning is nonsensical, and his reply merits discussion. He points out that one (extremely) likely repercussion of tolerating iPods at work is that illegal material may be uploaded to a corporate computer - in particular, illegal music downloads, acquired at home (since we can assume that a reasonably competent office will prevent illegal media downloading at work), may be moved to an MP3 player, and copied from there to a work computer for listening or backup purposes.

I do want to point out that the original article from p2pnet.net also fails to take this into account. I wouldn't be surprised if the Gartner group report exhibited a similar lack of insight. So the report itself is likely completely without merit.

Now, on to Dan's concern. I would love to know whether or not a company can be held liable for illegal material found on the computer of an employee. Dan assumes that they can, and I wouldn't be at all surprised, but at the same time, I just don't know. Of course, the employee may access to a server, and may move the material there - and when it's stored on a company-wide server instead of a local personal computer, the company is more likely to be liable. Also, other employees may borrow said material, which is even worse. But I still don't know.

And, for that matter, I'd rather see corporate policy preventing this sort of thing, knowing that there will be occasional violations, and maybe using a certain degree of network-file-transfer monitoring to reduce spreading. I personally kept my MP3 CD player at work for many years, listening to mostly legal music, and would not have retained the level of sanity I still possess (which admittedly is not much) were I not allowed to possess it.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

the next bright idea in the name of security - ban iPods in offices

p2pnet.net - Ban iPods at work

This is just brilliant. The article quotes a ZDNet UK article saying people shouldn't be allowed to connect private storage devices such as keychain USB drives or iPods to their work computers. There are two primary reasons for this: the devices may contain viruses which can damage the network, and the devices can acquire sensitive data from the work computers.

The first of these reasons is ridiculous. You need to have company-wide anti-virus software kept up to date constantly by a central server. Any other setup for other than the smallest companies is inexcusable. And if you have that, it's as much as you can realistically do anyway. Your employees are still going to check their email and browse the web at work (unless you ban that too; I realize some people would like to do that). But if you really want to be secure, install a firewall on every computer and train your employees to use them - they keep any unauthorized program from reaching across the internet, and don't require virus updates. There are good ways to be secure, but making it a pain in the ass for people to take work home or listen to music at work is not one of them.

The second reason is ridiculous. First, if an employee wants to steal data and screw the company, a regulation against taking an iPod to work won't stop them. Even if you strip search them to somehow guarantee that they are complying with the regulation and aren't carrying any unauthorized devices, they can still most likely transmit information across the internet. And some information can be written down on paper or even committed to memory. You have to trust your employees to some extent.

Now, you can combine the two reasons and actually create a scenario in which using an iPod could make your computer less secure. Consider a brand-new virus, too new to be caught by virus definitions, which infects a home computer, spreads to the user's iPod when synching, and then spreads to the work computer when synching there. The virus does not attempt to access the internet, so the firewall is not triggered (and remember, it's too new to be caught by virus scanners); instead, it somehow locates sensitive data and pulls it from the computer, storing it on the iPod. Now, when the iPod is returned to the home computer (which is less likely to have a firewall), it uploads the sensitive data to some other place where it can be used.

This is of course completely ridiculous, which is exactly my point. And, of course, if you provide free firewalls for your employees to use at home, and they're already trained to use them, a firewall at home would prevent the data from being sent anywhere (and it would still be a secure setup).