Saturday, December 31, 2005

Eligible Once More

I received an exciting email this morning. The relevant part reads

You are eligible to donate blood.
For the past year I've been on the banned list because of my trip to Nicaragua. In a way it was great, because my disqualification stopped the flow of phone calls... but it was also sad, because I like to give blood. Also, I'm just a pint away from getting my first gallon pin!

Time to find me a blood bank.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Supreme Humor

If you've ever read a Supreme Court opinion, or listened to oral arguments from a case, this New York Times article is a must read. Heck, if you're just someone who thinks that government, in the end of the day, is absurd... you need to read this piece.

Internet Governance

The websites I frequent often make a big deal about internet governance. The opinions range from "The United States is the totalitarian dictator of the internet" to "ICANN, a U.S. puppet organization, is the totalitarian dictator of the internet." Truly, the breadth of positions is staggering. Still, it is one of the few ways you can actually get news about such obscure topics as the Authoritative Root Zone File. (Never forget kids, when we are talking about internet governance all we really mean is who has write access to a little old text file on some computer somewhere.)

More observant people may remember the squabble in the United Nations over who would retain governance rights over the internet... pitting the United States against, well, everyone else. Apparently the rest of the world didn't quite have the stones necessary to take the fight all the way, because ICANN, a U.S. puppet organization, still "governs" the internet.

The most recent squabble, as reported in the Register, regards the ccTLDs. Before I get to the interesting part, a quick lesson. Top Level Domains, known as TLDs, are that we call .com, .org, .biz, etc. All of those suffixes that attach to the end of domain names. By attaching .com to the domain name google, the internet knows to query the .com root servers to figure out where, exactly, is on the internet cloud. Living in the United States we are familiar with the TLDs, but such is not the case elsewhere.

See, contrary to the viewpoint expressed by my trademarks professor, there is a limited set of useful words in the world. But thankfully computer scientists came up with the concept of namespace to resolve the limitation. Through namespace concepts we can say the the word "burger" means one thing in one context (say at McDonald's), and a wholly different thing in another (insert good burger joint here). When you apply this concept to the internet you get things like and (not linked here for obvious reasons).

This system works all well and good for the United States as we frolic about the .com, .org, and .net TLDs. But what about other countries? That's where ccTLDs come in. The 'cc' stands for country codes. So now the United Kingdom has its own entire namespace to assign as it sees fit, so long as they append .uk to the end. Pretty cool!

Back to internet governance. According to the news there has been some shifting in terms of political governance of a few nations... places like Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the Register (here's that link again) the ccTLDs for these nations belonged to someone before the invasions, and someone different afterwards. These transfers were overseen by ICANN and are seen as some sort of authoritarian powergrab. I beg to differ.

Prior to the Afghan transfer, all ccTLDs related edits to the Authoritative Root Zone File had to be approved by both the current controller and the new controller. The Afghanistan situation was unique because the fellow who was in charge died in the Kabul bombings. This was not the case in Iraq, where the previous controllers lived in the United States and survived the war quite well. But then the Coalition Provisional Authority wanted to give the .iq root servers to the actual Iraqi government. So they asked ICANN, ICANN initially balked saying that the rules require the old holders approval (which they weren't willing to give) but then backed down and made the transfer.

If I've haven't lost you by now, I'm impressed... and you will be rewarded by getting to hear my thoughts on the 5th Amendment Takings Clause. I happen to really like the Takings Clause, it is a very good bargin for both the government and its citizens. Sure, there will also be squabbles with how it is applied, but in general everyone seems to think it's a good idea. Unfortunately, not every country has seen it fit to enact a Takings Clause like protection. If the Iraqi Interim Government wants the ccTLD, it has the sovereign authority to take it... just like it has the sovereign authority to throw its citizens in jail. What seems to have gotten the Register all upset is this unilateral taking, and yet such a taking is just as possible here in the States (or the UK, where the Register is based). The difference between here and Iraq is that when the government takes, citizens are compensated.

So, does the Register expect ICANN, or the United States as a whole, to begin enforcing the 5th Amendment against other nations? That hardly seems like it's our responsibility or our right. If the previous holder of the Iraq ccTLD has a grievance, they should take it to the Iraqi government. ICANN should not stand in judgment of other nation's political systems. To give ICANN that authority is to truly elevate this puppet of the United States to the position of a global government.

Being the Best

In this case, being the Best Man.. My roommate asked me this afternoon to be the Best Man at his wedding. I've been secretly hoping he would ask, but knew that he could just as easily ask a number of other close males in his life. But, as the title makes clear, I was the best.

Of course, now I have a challenge. On my list of the Things I want to be Remembered For is giving good toasts. Back in my boy scout days I used to be the Troop's Chaplin's Aide, which meant I gave a lot of non-denominational prayers at Court of Honors and group meals. For some reason the parents in the troop thought I was really good at these prayers... even though they were entirely spontaneous. To make things even more confusing, I served as the aide during a time of great personal spiritual angst. Not that said period has past, but it sure was weird giving praise and asking for blessing to a God whose existence I question on a daily basis... and yet those around me, those who kept on asking me to pray on their behalf, believed so fully. But I digress...

The one thing I took away from the experience is that I might, just maybe, be good at giving speeches. I've given a number of political speeches over the years, mostly to student government types. Most people seem to think I've done pretty good. But this time, as the Best Man, I can't fall back on the rhetoric of the body politic. This time I've got to say something meaningful, true, and honest about people I really care about.

I take it as a great honor, and a great challenge...

Anyone got a thesaurus I can borrow?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Total 180

The Blackberry patents case fascinates me, and regulars will remember I've written about it before. I really had my money on the whole thing falling apart for RIM (the maker of the Blackberry) and expecting a billion dollar settlement. But if this New York Times article is to be believed I was way off the mark.

Appearantly the USPTO has taken particular interest in the five relevant patents and hurried the review requested by RIM. Not only has it been hurried, but they sent letters to the parties indicated they intend to invalidate all five patents. Couple of interesting items to note here:

  1. The trier of fact in the infringment suit is usually the entity who is responsible for determining validity. I'm not fully familiar with the administrative law surrounding the USPTO, but my guess is the Federal Court is free to take the PTO's final action as simply advisory.
  2. Why did the USPTO rush this review, of all reviews? Lots of reviews are pending and will make a world of difference to a wide set of cases, so what makes this one special? It certainly isn't the federal judge's comments that things are going slowly... agencies don't tend to listen to judges untill they start issuing orders. My guess is Blackberry's got a few angles in Congress who pulled a few strings.
  3. What does this outcome, from a billion dollar infringement to no infringement, say about the reliability of our patent system? Gives a lot of creedance to those who are trying to reform the patent system. The worry, though, is that the reforms are going to be more corproate friendly instead of being more inventor friendly.

The case remains alive, so the situation is far from settled. NTP is sure to appeal and the judge might throw out the PTO's finding of invalidity. I'll continue to watch and maybe, just maybe, by the time I get to DC the Blackberry craze will have passed.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Dating Survey

A friend pointed me towards a dating strength and weakness survey which was surprisingly comprehensive in terms of questions. The results are telling...

Dating StrengthsDating Weaknesses
1. Intelligence - 71.4%
2. Generosity - 60%
3. Independence - 57.1%
4. Optimism - 57.1%
5. Sense of Humor - 57.1%
1. Appearance - 77.8%
2. Arrogance - 62.5%
3. Insecurity - 61.5%
4. Shyness - 50%

Dating Strengths Explained
Intelligence - Your sharp intellect is a valuable asset. Use your intelligence wisely; avoid condescension. Quiet, confident intelligence is very attractive.
Generosity - You are a giving person by nature. Others will see this quality in you and recognize your kind nature. Take care not to let others take advantage of you.
Independence - Your strong sense of independence comes in handy while dating. You are not held back or tied down; you are free to pursue your interests.
Optimism - People are drawn to your positive outlook. Your optimism attracts others to you.
Sense of Humor - Girls are attracted to people with a good sense of humor. Be sure to put yours on display!

Dating Weaknesses Explained
Appearance - Devoting a greater effort at making good first impressions is a must. Try to be fit and develop a style if you want to catch a girl's attention.
Arrogance - You are a bit full of yourself. You need to practice a little humility now and then, as arrogance can be a turn-off.
Insecurity - Your insecurity makes you doubt yourself, but you must learn to love and trust yourself if you want to succeed in dating.
Shyness - You know all too well the limits shyness places on you. Putting yourself out there in social situations may be difficult, but essential to your dating success.

Take This Dating Quiz

I guess I agree with most of this stuff... except, why do I have insecurity and arrogance listed as a dating weakness. Aren't those mutually exclusive? That being said, this is all reasonably good advice, if only I could find a girl worth expending the energy.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Regarding the NSA Surveillance Program

Lots and lots of press about the NSA surveillance program disclosed by the New York Times last week. I've been trying to keep as updated as possible, reading NYTimes and Washington Post stuff. I supplement that with legal analysis from various legal and technology blogs. I admit to having missed the President's national speech, but I doubt it helps explain anything I didn't glean from the papers. It's a lot of information, and quite a bit to process.

As much as I'd like to jump all over the President and join the calls for impeachment, I refuse to be another political hack. There are some lingering questions worth asking before rushing to judgment. Perhaps the most important question centers on the purpose behind the program. Based on what I've read I can envision two possible purposes: one, to collect information to prosecute those engaged in terrorist activities; two, to collect information to disrupt those engaged in terrorist activities. The distinction is critical.

For the purposes of the record, let's take a look at the 4th Amendment.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The 4th arguably makes the NSA surveillance program unconstitutional. But as with most constitutional provisions, there is more here than initially meets the eyes.

I have not taken Criminal Procedure where the 4th is discussed in detail, but I do know that when warrants are required, and not, is complicated. I can envision a reading of the 4th that says failure to secure a warrant prevents procured evidence to be submitted for purpose of prosecution. But are things different if the evidence is used to facilitate having a an officer at the Golden Gate Bridge minutes before a terrorist is going to plant a bomb?

If we assume that such a purpose is constitutional then I would image certain limitations and tradeoffs. For example, the evidence in question (and all evidence gathered because of that evidence) could not be introduced for purpose of prosecution. So the government could choose to go through the procedural hurdles necessary to secure a prosecution, or it could skip the courts and lose the chance at prosecution (but maybe stop an attack).

There are obvious problems with this approach. For example, the FISA court established for the purposes of authorizing warrants related to international terrorism exists to ensure the government has probable cause before spying on U.S. citizens. I wasn't alive at the time, but the papers say in the 1970s the government spied on the anti-war movement and did so without reason to believe they were engaging in illegal activities or warrants.

The bad in that kind of activity is not immediately obvious. No one is being harmed or thrown in jail. No, the bad is insidious and hard to detect... it is the subtle interference of the government into the lives of citizens. It's something we should avoid, and in many cases the Constitution demands. But then you thrown in the issues present by the war on terror. How do you effectively fight an enemy with no physical form and an uncompromising agenda?

But let's move away from whether I think it's a good idea or not and ask whose opinion does matter. Our government has three branches last I counted. The executive branch made its wishes known... but who is supposed to respond next? Our Constitution says the Congress is next in line to speak. With the committee meetings and the hearings and the subpoenas. So why, oh why, is the FISA Court the next to act?

According to this Washington Post article, the presiding FISA judge has organized a briefing on the NSA program. How does that fit with our Constitutional understanding of Article III courts? Does this mean the Supreme Court now can look for issues it finds suspect and order a briefing? This seems to be the Court looking at the issue sua sponte... which I'm fairly certain it's not supposed to do.

Anyway, there's a lot here. I'm looking forwards to the eventual Congressional hearings (months from now) to get a better understanding of what's going on. I consider myself to be very pro-civil rights... but there is something to this issue that suggest we should ask a few questions before we jump to conclusions.

The President has made clear the government's legal theory supporting the wiretaps. Based on the information provided to the Congress I'm prepared to say their legal arguments are insufficient.

There remain lingering Constitutional claims that are possible theories, but their primary argument is based on the Authorization of Force from the weeks just after September 11th. They argue that the vague statements included in the resolution provide an implicit exemption from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It's a bogus argument that isn't rooted in Constitutional Law.

When the President acts with or without the express will of Congress there is a whole host of interesting tests to determine constitutionality. But when the President acts against the will of Congress the President's authority is limited that that granted by the Constitution. This is a situation where the President is engaging in activity expressly prohibited by the Congress... and a supposed implicit exemption is insufficient to change that. The White House needs to go back to the Constitutional Commander-in-Chief theory if it has any hope of winning.

Continued Tails from the Department of Homeland Security

The Washington Post is running a story today about the organizational failure of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is a favorite topic of mine because I was working in Congress at the time of its creation and predicted, at the ripe age of 21, that it would be an utter failure. I did so based on two thoughts: one, the proposed merit based personnel system would inevitably lead to tremendous patronage problems which would cripple the organizations; two, the department would become home to every boondoggle security project that regions would demand but the nation wouldn't really need.

I still believe I was right on both points, but it turns out there was a third reason to believe DHS would be a failure... lack of political support from the White House (except for the merit-based personnel system). The Post article details the amazing complexity of reorganizing the 22 federal agencies that comprise DHS. While nowhere near the scale of the problem, I sympathize with the difficulty with reorganization having been a major reformer of student government my whole college career. But such efforts are made even more complicated when the powers that be simply don't care, or worse yet, directly oppose your efforts. From the looks of it, the White House came down against DHS on almost every major issue of controversy.

Another amazing tidbit emerging from the article is how the agency was built in the first place. The task of creating a new department fell to a group of five mid-level staffers who did their work in almost total secrecy. That's okay, in my mind, provided that after the work is done they can work through their mistakes and be open about their fallibility. But I was there and I watched the congressional hearings... there were no mistakes and the bill was infallible.

The reason for this stubbornness is Washington itself. Had the sponsors been willing to admit the bill was in need of fine tuning Congress would have smelled blood and engaged in a Congressional turf war threatening to stop the entire process. I sat in the Ways & Means Committee for the markup of the House DHS bill. It's important to note that the Committee's jurisdiction was simply advisory. The entire bill would be referred to a special select committee would would have actual authority over the bill. At the Ways & Means Committee I saw Chairman Thomas, a powerful man, express his great displeasure with the bill and how it was taking away the Customs Agency from his Committee's oversight. And yet this man, responsible for the nation's tax policy and entitlement programs, was powerless to stop it. Why? Because the bill was perfect.

And yet, three years later, it seems that way of thinking is less and less the case.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rest In Peace

At approximately 10:20 am, December 20th 2005, my Grandmother, Dorothy Kellogg, died. She did after her lungs and kidneys failed, but with her family near. Not many people know my Grandmother... not because she was unfriendly, but because she outlived so many of her peers. She was 93.

She was important to me, and to my family, and we will all miss her.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Another Close Call?

This morning I received a phone call from my mother. My grandmother, who had gone into the hospital to have a stint installed into her kidney, was not doing so well. Seems the IV they hooked up as standard procedure prior to this particular surgery, combined with taking her off her diuretics, caused her lungs to fill with fluid.

She is currently in the ICU. My mother is there too... and neither is doing particularly well. The doctors say my grandmother will recover, but my mother is another matter. This is being quite a bit harder on her than I had expected, which in turn impacts me more than I had expected.

I hope they both recover in time for the holidays.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Federal Nondenominational Gift Giving Day (Observered)

Continuing the War on Christmas, my friends and I gathered for good fun and holiday cheer in our annual gift exchange. These continue to get more and more extravagant as our earning potential increases... which is great. I get as good of stuff from my friends as I do from my family. It's like two Christmas mornings!

This year we incorporated Tom into the festivities, bringing the total participants to four. Which means each is responsible for purchasing a gift for three people. But, and this is the clever part, we mostly go in on the same gift for one person. Thus the gift is usually on the larger scale of gifts one might hope for during the holidays.

This year I received the gift of a life time. A laser level! Not only does it mount vertically by inserting big metal pokers into my nice white walls, it can project its death beam around corners. I love it. The level comes as part of a whole slew of good Craftsman tools and a handy toolbox. I recently learned that I enjoy handyman stuff, so this is a great start on equipment necessary to persue my life long dream of becoming an apartment building superintendent.

A geek can dream...

What Is This Supposed to Mean?

Having seen several of my friends post their Hit Song of 2005, I decided to take the test and see where I fall in the scope of things. The test is surprisingly hard to complete. Several questions lacked the appropriate answers, and others presented close calls. Who knows how things may have turned out had I chosen to describe 2005 as "heartbreaking" (re: Danielle) instead of "scandalous" (re: GPSS and SAF)?

Anyway, here are the results...

Your 2005 Song Is

Don't Cha by the Pussycat Dolls

"Dont cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me
Dont cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me"

What happens in 2005, stays in 2005!

Can someone please explain what I'm supposed to glean from this? I don't think I've even heard the song before?!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Thoughts on Complexity

I recently watched March of the Penguins a fantastic documentary about the life and times of Emperor Penguins. Turns out to be an amazingly complicated process involving tremendously long marches to and from the ocean. They always gather in the same place year after year. Males and females take turns on the march bringing food to keep the chicks alive. The penguins also make use of some clever physical attributes, like a flap of skin near their feet that allows them to hold the egg on top of their feet and cover it with the flap.

The whole process is amazingly complex. It's no wonder that the Intelligent Design community latched onto the Emperor Penguin as Exhibit A of the necessity for a grand designer. The thought is surprisingly tempting... an easy way out of a complicated problem. Watching the film I couldn't help but think it made the question so much easier. I mean, how else could all this interconnectedness come to be?

But that got me thinking about something else: the economy and computers. The global economy is an amazingly complicated beast. The economy we know today is nothing like the economy we knew 20 years ago. That economy was nothing like the economy of the 19th century. That economy unlike that of the 15th century... and so on, and so forth. From the first economic transaction (agricultural division of labor?) we eventually arrived to where we are today (internet stock trading). The complexity of today's market is mind boggling. Thousands of people in today's market exist for the sole purpose of speculating on the availability of goods, purchase and sell short, which in turn prevents oversupply and shortages keeping prices relatively consistent. The job can only be done with an amazingly amount of information and sophisticated understanding of other actors.

This complexity is entirely of our own design. We built every piece, wrote every rule, explored every niche of our economy on our own. There was no intelligent designer beyond those in the system.

The same is true for computers. Not a single person exists on the face of the planet who could take the raw materials and build a modern day computer complete with operating system. The complexity inherent in a computer's construction is simply too much for one person to understand. Electronics, circuitry fabrication, compilers, operating system design, memory management, CRT displays, networking, security, mice, printers... every piece is necessary to create a modern computer. 10 years ago we didn't know about any of the technology we take for granted today. But that didn't matter... no intelligent designer was required to take small, tiny steps forward, evaluate that step, and then decide to follow that path or retreat and try again. The process is so successful that it took us to the moon.

So, intelligent designer boosters of the world, I think you're wrong. There is amazing complexity all around us, and much of it is our doing. If the flawed human race can create something as complex as the global economy, I'm happy to believe that life as a whole can accomplish things even more complex.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My Congressperson is Cooler Than Your Congressperson

In a Christmas seasons inspired fit of religious sentiment, the House has just passed H.Res 579. To give you a sense of this legislation, let me read the title into the record
Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected.
Now, it may be that I just finished the Establishment Clause part of my First Amendment final, but I find this resolution more than just a little offense.

Who, exactly is the House condemning when they "strongly disapprove[] of attempts to ban references to Christmas"? This sounds like the whole "War on Christmas" stuff that the Daily Show has been reporting on. Makes me glad I don't have time to watch cable news, I think I would end up throwing things at the screen.

Anyway, this doesn't explain the title of this post... but this does. See the 22 Nays there at the bottom? Is your Congressman among them? If you live in Seattle then he sure is. God bless Jim McDermott.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia

The growing popularity of Wikipedia has lead to a proportional growth in stories about Wikipedia, so I figure I'll contribute to the proportional growth to blog posts about news stories about Wikipedia.

A lot of people equate Wikipedia with the free/open source software movement. FOSS is close to my heart, but I'm also a sharing sort of person, so I'm happy to let anyone share in the glory that is peer collaboration and review. However, Wikipedia is different from FOSS in one critical regard. When I release code, submit a patch, or give user feedback I care about the authenticity and reliability of what I'm submitting to the community for reasons other than altruism. I do it because it impacts me. I give faulty feedback on a bug in an application I use, then that feedback is only going to slow the fixing of the bug... a bug I want eliminated. My interests align to ensure good behavior.

Such is not always the case with Wikipedia. See, I'm not required to cite my own article... especially when I know I've filled it with politically biased or just plain inaccurate statements. As such, my interests are not necessarily aligned. I may take great delight in detailing how Seattle is home to the world's largest skate park, but it won't be true... and the falseness does not impact me.

So, why is this interesting... Because Nature, a legitimate publication, setout to look at the level of inaccuracies found in 50 select science articles found in Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britanica. Turns out that Britanica is only slightly better. This is interesting, because with the traditional encyclopedias the incentive for authors is supposed to be financial remuneration. And yet, without any remuneration on the part of Wikipedia authors they are achieving practically the same result.

So it's time to go back to the drawing board as to why this is the case. The past 400 years of intellectual property law says this isn't supposed to be happening. This question needs to be answered.

A Hero is Leaving the Game

I like Jim Compton. Of all the Seattle City Council members he is easily my favorite. Smart, witty, and forward thinking... I appreciate his presence on the council and proudly voted for his second term in 2003 (I may have voted for him in his first bid, but it was so long ago there is a good chance I was still registered in Woodinville). Well, the Seattle Times reports today that he is bowing out of the game.

Compton says he has a unique opportunity to return to Romania and Egypt for studies and teaching. The Times suggests that Compton's recent ethical violations (a flight on Paul Allen's private jet and failing to disclose a meeting with strip clubs) has stained Compton's career and diluted his political abilities. I suppose it's possible, but he wouldn't stand for reelection until 2007, so I don't see how those indiscretions would really impact anything.

Perhaps most sad is that it leaves the city's broadband initiatives without a champion. Compton single-handidly brought together a taskforce last year that proposed wide scale revisionsing of the city's broadband future. I've written about this before, having been to almost all of the taskforce meetings, and suggest that the recommendations not exactly a good idea. But they were ideas all the same. Now I wonder who will pickup the torch and carry on the fight... absent a new champion, I fear we may fall behind as other cities embrace the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You Heard it Here First

Unless, of course, you read Penny Arcade and did so before you read this blog. Or read any number of more popular blogs. Or know others who read other popular blogs. Actually, chances are you heard it here last.

So, what is it that is already old news? Well, tonight Eric and I attended the annual Child's Play Charity auction. The event was markable different from auctions like the Washington NARAL auction Danielle (I've decided to start using Lindsay's middle name to refer to here in the blog... this is your only warning) used to take me to, the HRC Dinner, or even the Public Interest Law Association. All political/social cause events design to squeeze the turnip of ever last drop of blood.

Child's Play, while certainly a social cause event, is unlike the others because of the audience. It's not about getting the big donors to open their wallets. Instead, the fine folks at PA use it as an opportunity to revel at the fact they are even putting on a charity event and that every single person in attendance is a gamer. As it would turn out, this is a great way to make money. In total tonight's giving broke $82,000... taking the total giving for the year to more than $350,000. All of it goes to hospitals serving children who are either terminally ill or spend a whole ton of time in their facilities.

Here's the kicker though... one guy bid $20,000 (yes, FOUR zeros) to have his likeness appear in one of the 156 annual PA comics strips. Absolutely amazing!

Eric rented a $1600 lens for his amazing digital cameras and took a ton of pictures. You can see his pictures on Flickr.

Here's a great picture of Brendan and I all dressed up

View Bigger

Monday, December 12, 2005

All that Ever Was and Ever Will Be

My laptop arrived on Friday. I say arrived in the literal sense, for in the figurative sense my laptop has always been with me. With less than 72 hours of exposure I feel like I've always had it, and wouldn't know how to go on without it. But the process of getting here was nothing short of heroic.

Warning: If you do not consider yourself a geek, you may want to skip the rest of this post.

When I get a computer the first I do is boot into Windows (which always comes pre-installed) to confirm two items. First, yes the world is still controlled by Microsoft. Second, yes the hardware functions. Immediately following those critical confirmations I turn to the task of installing Debian GNU/Linux.

The Toshiba Protege R200 has neither optical or floppy drive. The same goes for my old, inferior laptop. Thankfully I have a PCMCIA CD drive, I should just be able to toss in the Debian Net Install CD, boot of the drive and go through the process. No (get use to seeing that word). Turns out you cannot boot of the PCMCIA drive. So, I whip up some boot diskettes and boot of my USB floppy drive. Perfect, now when I get to the Debian Net install I'll just connect to my wireless and get the software. No. Turns out the wireless is not supported by the stock kernel. No problem, it's got a built in GIGABIT ethernet. No. The device is so new that the opensource driver won't work, you need a patch from the vendor.

No problem, I've got the entire Debian Sarge distribution burned to DVD. I can install from that! No. For reasons passing understanding the CD drive only works intermittently. Really no solution other than to try again and again until it works. Which I did. So now it was just a matter of using the provided tools to shrink the windows partition to make space for Debian. No. Stupid NTFS, I had to use the Toshiba recovery partition to format the entire computer and put Windows in a tiny 10 gig partition. And then we were ready, finally getting through the install process. Yay!!! Now all I needed was to get online, it would be cakewalk once I had an IP address.

Two routes then, wireless or ethernet. First the wireless, which could be compiled as a separate module. Only trouble is that I had to use the latest Debian kernel (which I burned to CD from another computer) which had been compiled with GCC 4.0. Debian Sarge comes with GCC 3.3. If you're thinking it should be easy to just copy over the appropriate debian packages to install GCC 4.0 you clearly don't understand the scope of the problem. So when I tried to compile the module I had binary incompatibility issues. Fine, I'll just recompile the whole kernel from source. Except all the kernels I created were causing kernel panics at boot (turns out this was my fault, as I later learned from Eric). Okay, what about the ethernet device. Well, the internet wasn't a whole lot of help... bunch of people saying different things about how to get it to work. Eventually I figured out I needed to patch the kernel and compile a new... but wait, I couldn't get that to work with a stock kernel, why would this be any different.

Then I had a brilliant idea. Compile the wireless driver on a different computer, copy it over and install it. Now it was just a simple matter of booting into windows, copying over the appropriate modules, tools related to the module (madwifi is really strange) and associated libraries, booting back into Linux, mount the Windows partition, hand place each file into the appropriate directory and load the module. Except that all of my other computers are AMD and the laptop is i686. Another incompatible binary! After learning how to cross compile I eventually went through the whole process again and finally... FINALLY had a working internet connection.

The rest was pretty painless. Thanks to the amazing opensource community I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants and get everything else working in a matter of hours.

End of Geek Alert

Feeling a bit Sick

It's 23 minutes until my one and only sitdown exam for this quarter. It's evidence, widely considered to be the hardest exam offered at the UW. Instead of the usual essay based exam format, where you can talk your way through the problem, evidence uses a multiple choice approach. Three hours, thirty questions, ten possible answers per question. That's six minutes per question, and 36 seconds per answer!

To make matters worse, I am totally unprepared. I just haven't studied nearly enough (if one can describe what I've done so far as studying). But in 180 minutes it will all be over and I can go back to my precious, precious take home finals.


I survived. But just barely. Because folks can reschedule finals and thus may not have taken the final yet, I won't say anything about the test except it was phenomenally hard. Multiple choice has a way of making you doubt your own sanity. Sure, I know A and C are right, but there is no "A and C" choice, only an "A, C, and D" choice... and I sure know that D is false.

I'm not sure if there was anything I could have done to resolve the situation. It was a hard test that required lots of intricate knowledge of the rules that I simply wasn't going to glean in a weekend worth of cramming. But I think I made a pretty good showing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I Actually Won

I play poker with friends from the law school. I'm not particularly good. Counting all games I'm at least $300 in the hole. I've left games with money on occasion... cash games where I leave with $10 extra or tournaments where there is an payout for third place.

Today I did better than that... I came in second. For all intents and purposes I should have been first. I had a dominating chip lead going into heads-up (I've never been in heads-up before, so being in a chip lead was even more shocking) and made the absolute correct call against my opponents all-in. With the game on the line I had Ace/King he had King/Jack... the River gave him a pair of jacks. Devistating. I still left the table with $20 more than I came with, so it was a good night and a great end to a very cool day.

I'll post about it tomorrow.

Soundtrack for Life

I am prepared to say, after much thought and deliberation, that the following three CDs have changed my life.
  • Twin Cinema
  • Electric Version
  • Mass Romantic
All of these CD's are by a Canadian band named The New Pornographers. It's hard to explain the why behind my belief that these 39 songs have had such an important impact, but they have. Maybe some history will help...

I usually listen to what I call geek music, bands like the Barenaked Ladies, They Might Be Giants, etc. All excellent bands with good lyrics and clever takes on the world around them. In addition I have a soft spot of excellent vocalists like Sarah McLachlan and Dido. But around the time Lindsay and I broke up I started getting into a darker side of music... well, dark for me. My playlist included songs from The Killers, Snow Patrol, and Green Day. These are all great bands too; in fact, I went to The Killers' concert not too long ago and really enjoyed it (other than being way older than the average attendee).

The problem with most of this music is that it takes a rather pessimistic view on relationships. A quote from Snow Patrol's How to Be Dead:
Please take it easy it can't all be my fault
I haven't made half the mistakes
That you've listed so far
Oh baby let me explain something
It's all down to drugs
At least I remember taking the and not a lot else
It seems I've stepped over lines
You've drawn again and again
Now, this song held a lot of meaning for me while I was first internalizing the end of my relationship with Lindsay. But it also reinforced certain bad feelings and assumptions... which means listening to their CD every day on the way to and from Renton over the summer was not exactly the best idea.

Then the New Pornographers walked into my life. At first it was just a CD that Brett picked up 'cause he heard them on NPR. Then I bought their earlier CDs. Then we went to a live concert. Now I listen to them pretty much non-stop when I'm walking around campus (Digital music players are truly a godsend). Their music is a cross between pop, folk, electric, and bubbles (not the music... the soapy stuff). It's an eight person band with both a male and female lead singer, which gives each of their song a very unique feel. Contrast with the Killers who, as far as I can tell, have two unique songs that are each 15 minutes long.

The lyrics are also mind blowing... consider this verse from These are the Fables off Twin Cinema.
Heaven shook Hell
And down from its pockets
The ring in your bell
It fell through your hands
Hang at your feet
The doors that won't open
Marking the journey of our friends complete
These are the fables of my street
My street

My street, my street
Lay down in glory, you're not alone
I know exactly what this means... but I couldn't even begin to tell you. It's that way with most of their songs. Something about them just communicates concepts and feelings through emotional expression and mere sentence fragments. Best yet, I would say only 30-40% of their songs are about intimate relationships. Most, at least in my head, are out our other relationships... whether with our friends, our life choices, or the world at large. That being said, one of their best songs is a relationship song entitled All for Swinging You Around that I would proudly sing at the top of my lungs to the next person I fall in love with.

It also helps that they sound great and their music is lively.

I say this music has changed my life because for two reasons. One, it got me out of a nasty rut of listening to the dark music. Two, it gives me a means by which to think about my life in a whole new light. Through the lens of these whimsical words I find new meaning. If you've read this far, I strongly suggest you pick up one of their albums. Each one is excellent in their own right, but Twin Cinema is probably the best starter album (although All for Swinging You Around is on Electric Version).

And if you don't... I just might have to buy you a copy for your birthday.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Quality Craftmanship

I'm taking Antitrust this quarter. It's a good class. I would say that in combination with Business Organizations these two classes explain nearly everything that you read in the New York Times business section that seems to make no logical sense. Really, you want to understand the why of the business world these are must take classes. But that's besides the point...

Each week a different group presents to the class on a case study from the Professor. Thanks to twisted fate, I am assigned to a group that goes dead last. Our problem is probably the hardest, most complication question asked of any group. Add to this problem my failure to do much of the reading and you have an ever increasingly likelihood of my total failure. Or so you would think.

Turns out, no, I'm not the weak link in this particular three ring circus (check out that mixed metaphor). See, the rest of the group is comprised of 2Ls. My friends should remember this as a great time for me. You're fresh out of 1L and your summer internship. The world seems to be your oyster. Turns out that's just not true. See, you haven't learned how to process huge areas of the law that are presented in upper-division classes. You're still trying to fit the models that got you through 1L to actual law. You have yet to learn that you hardly know anything.

Prof. Drake, the Antitrust professor, isn't interested in outdated modes of legal analysis. He's interested in what's going to win the argument. What's your hook? Well, I've read the brief written by my able 2L teammates and I can say without equivocation... there is no hook. This wouldn't normally be a problem if we were taking the easy position, but we seem to have decided to argue the hard side. Which means you need more than just a hook... you need a fantastic hook.

This past day I've been reading up on all the relevant merger cases, refactoring the brief into a workable presentation that might actually have a hook. Otherwise I go before the class tomorrow and look quite the fool. I don't have a problem looking the fool, but it had better be of my own doing.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Shopping Adventure

Instead of actually studying or getting ready for my impending finals smackdown, I went computer shopping today. To aid me in my shopping I brought along Tom, Eric, and my trusty FlexCar. That's right, I actually used my automobile! It was pretty cool, in retrospect. Keys in the glove compartment, RFID embedded card to open the vehicle, secret pin to unlock the ignition. All very sleek and modern. The car was even a hybrid, which was totally cool. You can actually see the battery charge and how much is charged back into the battery when you break. Behold technology.

We went to BestBuy and Circuit City to caress the laptops. Laptop caressing is very important... you need to know if it is going to provide the kind of robust experience one would expect when putting down $2000. I am pleased to announce that I have found just such a machine. I selected the Toshiba Protege R200. Having decided I drove home, went to, and purchased it with same as cash for the next six months. Should arrive in three days.

Copyright Abuse?

My regular readers (which I learned last night is one more than I original believed... hi Julianna) know that I worked last summer for Wizards of the Coast, the gaming company behind the hugely popular Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards, in turn, is owned by Hasbro. Hasbro is the Microsoft of the boardgame universe. While working at Wizards I was told that Hasbro controlled 80% of the gameboard market. We're talking major market control.

Risk, the popular tabletop war game, is but one of the many games Hasbro owns. A few weeks ago an enterprising computer geek developed an online game conjoining the Google Maps API (which lets programmers create third party applications using Google Maps) with the game mechanics of Risk. Essentially Risk online.

Today I learned that Hasbro wasn't all that pleased. They have sent a cease & desist letter to the developer. The letter claims two things: first, the game violates Hasbro copyrights, two, the game violates Hasbro trademarks. Now, I never actually played this online version, so I have no first hand knowledge, but with a few assumptions I think we can make a pretty good case that Hasbro is reaching for straws here.

The trademarks issue is solidly in Hasbro's corner. But our hapless developer could have just as easily renamed the product "Online War Simulation" (the most generic term possible) and been in the clear. He could even have said "this game is like Risk" and been just fine under fair use. That doesn't mean that Hasbro didn't try to overreach even thought they had a winning argument. No, they also made a claim of dilution in their letter. Dilution isn't something to be thrown around lightly... it requires a showing that the mark is very well known and that there is some sort of loss of consumer respect for the mark because of this third party use. Dilution is usually only brought out when there is a famous mark and someone else is using it in a non-related goods manner (like selling clothing under the brand Starbucks). Hasbro is just trying to scare them.

The interesting issue for me is the copyrights claim. Let's look at the letter to understand exactly what they are claiming.
Your Game appears to copy elements of Hasbro's RISK game and rules as well as its trademark. The RISK game, including the rules, is the copyrighted property of Hasbro. Hasbro also owns the trademark rights to the RISK name. Your unauthorized use of the RISK game constitutes copyright infringement in violation of 17 U.S.C. 501.
First, that's bogus because the statute they cite is the infringement section which says you can't violate this big list of items listed in a whole other section... they don't bother to identify which of the myriad of items is at issue... not surprising, as we shall see.

I've seen how Wizards copyrights games and I'm guessing that Hasbro uses a similar model. That model boils down to "we copyrighted the game... and thus everything inside." But as anyone who recently took Copyrights should know you can't just copyright anything.

The game arguably breaks down into three distinctive pieces. First, the box and board artwork. The developer wasn't using a box, so that's out. Which leaves us with the board itself. Risk uses the world map divided into historically significant territories, all of which are public domain. Not much of a copyright there. Second, the text of the rules (distinctive from the rules themselves, which I'll get to). The actually text is copyrighted, no question. Someone decided to put a comma here and a phrase there and that's all expression owned by Hasbro. If the developer just copied that verbatim then he's got a problem. But, if we assume he played the game a few times with his friends and then wrote new rules based on those experiences, Hasbro has no claim. Independent creation is a sufficient defense in these sorts of situations.

Lastly, number three, are the game mechanics (that's the industry term... you and I know them as rules). There a lot of fighting about the proper IP protection surrounding game mechanics. I think that patents are the perfect fit. It's a method of accomplishing something... bang, 20 years of protection. Problem is, patents are expensive and most game companies don't bother (although Wizards got a patent for card games and makes a killing). So the game companies decided, ipso facto as far as I can tell, that you can also copyright game mechanics! I grappled with this extensively while I worked for them and eventually decided that it was okay because it essentially was an industry agreement that Game Company A would not rip off Game Company B. But when applied to a third party hobbyist I think that you've got to do the full analysis.

The full analysis says that copyright protect expression, not ideas. The written rules are an expression... the game mechanics are not. You want to get a patent, fine, pay for a patent. If not, the game mechanics are there for others to take and tinker with.

All that being said, the developer took down his game because there is no way he's paying for a lawyer to defend against this arguably untenable legal claim.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Laptop Dying... Won't Last Much Longer

My laptop is so on its last leg. I've said this before. Roughly two years ago I started a fairly comprehensive policy of treating my laptop very poorly. Dropping it, stuffing it into a bag already full of books, using it in poorly ventelated areas. The result of my consistent abusive behavior eventually took its toll on my poor laptop... and now it has scant few days left.

The final death blow came Thursday when the fan, which had been acting up for months, finally bit the big one. Now, anytime it has to spin up it sounds like a playing card in a bicycle wheel spoke. Just an awful, awful sound. Adding injury in insult, the physical volume control broke off on the same day. Now the laptop is always muted... no digital audio goodness for me.

Now I'm in the market for a new laptop and I'm looking for something small. There are two models of interest. The Toshiba Libretto U100 and the Dell Latitude X1. The Dell option is somewhat tried-and-true, but I have a real aversion to Dell and due to their online retail nature there is no way to try before you buy. The Toshiba is a bit more, shall we say, controversial.

It weighs 2.2 lbs and it not much larger than a VHS tape. The screen is 7.2 inches diagonal. That's super tiny. And the keyboard is equally tiny... so typing may be a problem. It's also expensive, $2000 expensive. Futher testing will have to be in order.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

So Close to Making a Point

For those of you who have never seen a BlackBerry, God bless your innocent soul. The little devices have invaded not only American politics but the legal and IT elite. What, you might ask, is common about those three groups? Let's just say I have a passing interest in all three. To the uninitiated, the BlackBerry presents the unique opportunity to be plugged into your email at all time, which is wonderful if you feel that inane email is of such importance as to warrant immediate access.

The Federal Government is hooked on these things, so you'll imagine my giddiness when I learned that the entire BlackBerry network was going to be shutdown due to patent infringement. Finally, I thought, those in charge of the patent law in this country could see its damaging effects... see that a new balance needed to be struck to ensure innovation. But it would seem that my dreams are not to be.

NTP, the patent holder going after RIM (makers of the BlackBerry), is simply too smart to upset Congress and its friends. It has made clear to the Court that any injunction it might issue should exclude government users! Brilliant, simply brilliant. This CNN Money article does a good job summarizing the issue. Suffice to say, RIM is left with little choice now that the issue of patent validity and infringement have been reviewed by the Federal Circuit. They either face an injunction which will only impact the people who can do nothing to save them or pay over a likely billion dollar settlement to NTP.

Imagine what could have happened if Congress was actually impacted by the laws it passes...