Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Backpedal A Little Faster

As you probably know by now, Pat Robertson is backpedalling and apologizing for his remarks that the U.S. should assassinate Venezuela's democratically-elected president Hugo Chavez. I don't have a lot to add to this other than what others have already said, but I can't pass up this opportunity to ridicule Robertson for his typical BS apology. His apology says, "I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.'" Of course, "take him out" can mean things other than "kill the bastard." Furthermore, "I was misinterpreted by the AP [Associated Press], but that happens all the time." For a refresher, here's what he actually said: "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it." So, you can see, he never used the word "assassination." Only "assassinate." He was clearly misinterpreted and taken out of context. Damn that liberal Associated Press and their lies.

Many Things, Some Good, Some Bad

First, as some of you know already, I am now officially engaged, as of August 12. The wedding will be next June. So, I'm very excited about that.

Second, it is pretty evident that posts lately have been rather scarce. Part of it, I'm sure, is that I haven't been in much of a mood to rant lately. It's that whole bliss thing. Being happy sometimes makes it hard to rant. On a related note, I've spent a lot of time travelling between Indy and Lansing, splitting my time about evenly between the two. When in Indy, I haven't been on the computer except at work. And I've had to focus more to keep my hours down.

Another major reason is that grad school starts next week. Frankly, I'm terrified. I've only done limited programming in C, and it's been a while since I've worked in Java. And don't even mention Assembly. I've spent the last couple months frantically rereading my undergrad texts and trying to relearn those languages. I feel extremely unprepared and don't know how I'll get everything done that I need to.

This obviously leads to the question of the future of this blog. I currently have it planned that I will be doing most of the work for my job Monday through Thursday. The weekend is reserved for homework, visiting the fiancee, and wedding planning. I'm thinking about setting a regular schedule for posting. Perhaps I'll save a week's work of items and blog about them all on a Monday or so. Obviously, school and work (I still need money to be able to eat) will come first. I've enjoyed putting my posts together (especially when I get comments), so I don't want to stop altogether. We'll see how it goes.

Now, on to real news that may have slipped through the cracks. First, a couple of weeks ago, the director of a Florida library was suspended because a registered sex offender used the library's computers to access child pornography web sites. City Commissioner Robert Billingsley is also pushing for the director, Sue Martin, to be fired. Martin had sent a letter to Billingsley stating that access is monitored and "suspicious use" is checked against the user's Web usage history. It does not say that any such suspicious use is reported, though I suspect it may.

I find this whole incident rather disturbing. Ms. Martin is the director of a library. Is it her job to enforce criminal law and punishment? Is it her job to do background checks on every patron of the library to provide better monitoring? Is it her job to compensate because the criminal justice system is not adequately tracking sex offenders? If a Muslim from Syria comes into the library and does a search on explosive material, should she report that? Never mind that he is a student pursuing a degree in materials science. I've always found the term "police state" interesting. In dystopic novels like 1984, the police state functions because everyone making up the state are police. Children report thoughtcrimes of their parents. Librarians report anything resembling suspicious information access of their patrons.

I don't know all the details of the incident. The article, in fact, states that the commissioner declined to comment on why he thought Ms. Martin had "not done enough to prevent the incident." My gut reaction, though, is that the police are overcompensating for their failures in preventing the deaths of Jessica Lunsford and Sarah Lunde.

I seem to be on a roll with police today, because here's another scary story. Over the weekend, a Utah rave was busted in a very heavy-handed manner. There's some video footage here. And many posts here. Assault rifles, tear gas, police dogs, camouflage, throwing people to the ground and kicking them. Seems a bit much to break up a party. Add in confiscation of cameras and camera phones to limit the evidence. According to the police statement, the organizers did not have a mass gathering permit since there were over 250 people attending. In fact, they did, as confirmed by the Utah County Health Department. However, they did not know that there was a similar permit required, which would detail security plans and event details. It looks like that one small slip will doom the organizers.

What I found especially disgusting was the treatment of the security guards hired for the event. The guards searched cars and people coming into the event, confiscating alcohol and drugs. I.e., the organizers were trying to be responsible and have a clean, legal party. In an ironic twist, these guards were then arrested for illegal drug possession. "[Security guards] have no legal statutory authority to take and hold controlled substances. It's against the law for them to have them." That quote comes from Utah County Sheriff James Tracy. Would he say the same thing of security guards hired for a Ticketmaster-sponsored event? Somehow, I doubt it.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Wonderful DMCA Revisited

I have ranted many times over the stupid piece of legislation known as the DMCA. Go back and search my archives if you want more information on it. I just wanted to post a couple of recent stories relating to the DMCA that I have come across recently. Today, there is this story about Real's fears of legal repercussions for their Harmony technology. If you buy and MP3 from Real and try to transfer it to your iPod, Harmony is what makes it work. That is because Apple has a proprietary DRM technology called (ironically enough) FairPlay. FairPlay is intended to block out competitors and form a monopoly ensure that your MP3s were legally purchased. FairPlay only allows MP3s created with no DRM or MP3s downloaded from iTunes to play on the iPod. Of course, the intent is transparent enough. If FairPlay was actually intended to fight piracy, the iPod would not allow MP3s lacking DRM to play. So FairPlay is anything but.

On a more ridiculous note, FedEx is using the DMCA to sue a guy who made furniture out of their boxes. His website is kind of funny. He has pictures of the furniture he has made. Seriously, now. This is a violation of the DMCA? That piece of legislation is such garbage.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Why Was This Discussion Not Held Before?

Back when it was only being discussed, I had a post about why extending Daylight Savings Time was a bad idea. Now, after the energy bill has passed, CNN has a story about the trouble this change could cause. So why was this never mentioned before now? Duh! If you change what the official time is, there's a lot of stuff that would need to be fixed to pick up that change.

I'm not trying to be Chicken Little on this. I don't think the sky is falling. As Jonathan pointed out in his comment on my original post, Y2K was a lot of fuss and wasted money over what turned out to be a mostly minor problem. My point is that there wasn't much of a problem with Y2K because people started working on it a few years in advance. There was a lot of work put into fixing the problem. The success of that endeavor left some companies feeling they had been swindled into spending a lot of money on a minor problem. That could be why this problem is not receiving adequate attention.

One example of this in daily life is your VCR. Many VCRs automatically adjust for DST and there is no easy way to update how this is calculated. So you have it set up to record a show at 9:00 PM every Wednesday. When the new DST goes into effect, you have a couple of choices. First, you can manually adjust the time on your VCR. You look around your home to fix all the clocks that need manually set and notice the VCR time hasn't changed. So you set it ahead an hour. Three weeks later, you have to remember to set it back an hour because the VCR has adjusted itself to compensate for what was the old DST. The second option is to just update that recording time. Again, same problem. Three weeks later, you have to fix it again.

Then, of course, there are the mission critical large applications where exact timing is required. Let's say you work for a small company, and your direct deposit goes through at 5:00 PM. You also have a bill that gets automatically debitted at 5:30. If your company doesn't fix their computers, that 5:00 deposit would then become a 6:00 deposit. You end up with a $20 overdraft charge because your debit goes through before your deposit, even though both occur on the same day. (Yes, this has happened to me before, so it can happen.)

And let's not forget Canada. Currently, the Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones are the same for the U.S. and Canada. If Canada chooses not to adopt the same changes, this could be a major hassle for scheduling. If you work in New York and schedule a teleconference with someone in Montreal, are you sure the time is the same? You're both on Eastern time, but those may be out of sync for 4 weeks out of the year.

I think the best quote in the CNN article comes from Lauren Wernstein, a veteran technologist (whatever that means): "Missiles won't be launching but it's still going to cause a lot of hassle." Where Y2K may have had a lot more hype than it actually deserved, this change is probably getting less notice than it deserves.

Friday, August 05, 2005

I Think I Like This Decision, But I'm Not Sure

So the NCAA has banned American Indian mascots from postseason tournaments. As the title of this post makes clear, I'm uncertain exactly how I feel about this. Overall, I do like it. Most teams with American Indian mascots typically have white guys dressed up in hideously caricatured outfits running around acting like fools. And then they're joined in be the crowd doing the tomahawk chop.

To their credit, some schools, such as the University of Illinois, do at least attempt to be authentic. The infamous Chief Illiniwek is wearing authentic regalia presented to the university by Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow. His dance is supposedly based on an actual celebratory dance. However, I don't know that I would consider this picture to be the most dignified pose for the Chief.

It seems that the near authenticity is actually what makes it so bad. Imagine halftime at Notre Dame. Out comes a girl dressed up in priest's robes. She's swinging around--I have no idea what the proper term for this item is--an urn hanging on a chain, spreading the smoke from the incense inside. During part of her routine, she jumps and does the splits midair. She ends with a somber moment, going through the motions of blessing a round disc of unleavened bread and eats it. Do you think that Catholics would feel honored by this display? Somehow, I doubt it.

My reservation about this is due to the idea of mascots in general. A school or team picks a mascot for many reasons. One reason is to display strength. So would Sparty be offensive? I don't know how representative his outfit is of the clothing of the people of Sparta. Sparty, like most mascots, is simply a person in a ridiculous costume trying to rally support from the fans.

So which would be better for schools with American Indian mascots? An almost-but-not-quite authentic Chief Illiniwek, or someone with a bunch of feathers on their head looking ridiculous? Is there any middle ground in the discussion? For example, could U of I keep the Illini as their name, but take the Chief out of the halftime performance? Like I said before, I'm not really sure.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Appalling Evidence of Torture

This via Balkinization. The Washington Post has a lengthy article about the death of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush. The Major General was captured during a raid after walking onto a base to negotiate the release of his sons. He then died of natural causes after being brutally beaten multiple times. It's simply disgusting to read. It's becoming increasingly clear that the use of thuggish, stand-in torturers (in this case the Scorpions) has been systematic. And it looks like a handful of low level troops are going to take the fall for actions they were led to believe were authorized from higher levels.

My question is this: If an Iraqi Major General is not protected by the Geneva Conventions, who is?

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Change of Heart?

I saw the news item last week and just this article about Bill Frist endorsing government funded stem cell research. Perhaps I am being too cynical about this, but I cannot help but feel that this decision is political opportunism. According to the article, Republicans close to Frist said he "came to his decision after consulting with scientists at Stanford University and elsewhere and watching biomedical research advance overseas." Frist's move to endorse the bill shocked and infuriated many Christian conservatives that have long been his supporters. He is opposed to abortion and all federal funding for abortion. So why would someone so opposed to abortion side with the more liberal view in that gray area of stem cell research? These two facts may give some indication: Many stories mention Frist as a potential 2008 presidential candidate. In addition, the article above points out that "recent polls [show] that some two-thirds of Americans support embryonic stem cell research and a majority favor fewer restrictions on taxpayer funding for it."

Perhaps Frist truly does believe in supporting stem cell research. I can't shake the feeling, though, that he is trying to establish a false record as a moderate, similar to Bush's "compassionate conservative."