Archive for August, 2002

Walla Walla Walla

Last weekend’s trip through Central Washington was the first time that I had been to the Walla Walla area in 5 years or so. The last time, I was in a van with a bunch of crazy cyclists from the UW going out for a race weekend.

It has changed. The wierdest change is the wind farms. I started noticing them at dusk when the aircraft warning strobes kicked on. Imagine a hundred strobes in irregular patterns coming from a hill where you can only barely make out that there is something other than grass. Looking back into the setting sun, you could see some of the turbines silhouetted against the fading orange glow.

The other thing I noticed was the smell of grapes. Every few miles there would be another vineyard with the sweet smell of growing grapes. I don’t think I’ve smelled them since I was 5, when we had some grape vines on the back fence at home. Yet I knew instantly what the smell was.

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Winding roads

Somewhere in the middle of Idaho this weekend, I came upon a sign from above.

Where to take a miata on a date.

Well not just somewhere, It’s on Highway 12 heading east to Lolo pass. (From Lewiston Id to Missoula Mt.) And of those 77 miles of winding roads, there are no stoplights, or stop signs, cellphone towers, or billboards. For 65 miles, there are no services.

And on Saturday, there were a total of 4 cars to pass, about one group every 20 miles.

Once you cross Lolo pass, it’s just a few miles downhill into the Bitterroot Valley. I might also point out the speed limit on the Montana side is 70 mph on a 2 lane road.

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As I was driving along an interstate in central Washington, I ran across….

On the interstate, Central Washington.

Unfortunately, there was no destruction, fire breathing lizards, weblogs, or open source web browsers. Just a little town.


Let me count the ways…

“The vast potential of broadband has so far benefited nobody as clearly as it’s benefited downloaders of pornography and pirates of digital content,”

So says Peter Chernin, President of News Corp. link

Leaving aside his beneficiaries for a moment, let me count some benefits to me.

  1. Community – Broadband gives me the opportunity to interact with bloggers, family, and friends across the net, both by reading and writing. I own my own press. I can run my own chat/mail/news/web servers. I have a degree of independence that I didn’t have at a hosting company since at this point, I have the technical capability and computer capacity to self host.
  2. Connectivity – Before broadband, I had several news sources. The local radio, maybe a TV station, and local and national papers. After broadband, I have my choice of feeds: local (and remote local) news sources across the net, bloggers with personal expertise, the large national news sources. I have a choice of feeds, and oddly enough, none of them sound like the local evening news. Most of them point out where the mainstream news isn’t on the ball.
  3. Growth – Broadband fosters a community of collaboration and learning if you are at all interested in looking for it. Entire classic programming texts are online. Every programming envrionment has an online forum of some sort. Everywhere I look, there’s some sort of site that makes me think, ‘If I only had time to explore that…’
  4. Instant Gratification – For most of the computers I own, I get software and updates by typing a few commands or waiting for the auto updates. I can buy books, bike parts, plane tickets, and computers at midnight without leaving the couch. I can research what tires I want to get for my little red sports car while I’m on the phone with the retailer.

These aren’t front page big story benefits. They won’t force anyone out of business. They might steer traffic to the little guy with better quality or prices. But they’re the sort of thing that wouldn’t have happened pre-internet. They’re a change in the way that people relate to the vast body of people and information around them.

People now assume that there’s a vast body of knowledge out there and that it’s there for the finding. Businesses are realizing that people can check up on what they say in realtime, and two days later can be the top hit on google for their business name. People are seeing that there’s the potential to create something and have an audience. Everyone needs an audience, however small it may be.

I’ll leave the obvious digs at the leader of Fox TV lecturing net.inhabitants on morality and decency for another day. But I will end with an ad hominem attack on network executives. People on the net will generally do what they would when they don’t think anyone’s watching. It’s the same sort of thing that CFOs do when the SEC isn’t watching, only it doesn’t involve billions of other peoples’ dollars. But when it involves billions of dollars, it’s a ‘restatement’ or an ‘accounting irregularity’. When the little people download music worth $1000 (retail), it’s called a ‘felony’.

(o.b. max headroom quote: How can you tell when a network executive is lying? His lips move.)

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One Liners

  • Coming Soon! Garden Powers in ZucchiniMember! Apparently it’s the result a bizzare accident that left him stuck in the garden over the weekend.
  • Summer is a good time to explore the cat/puddle of fur duality phenomenon.
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Confessions of a Patent Infringer.

I have infringed upon a patent, and I have no regrets.
ActiveBuddy now has a patent on your garden variety chat bot, and they plan on enforcing the patent. Unfortunately, I’m not prior art. But lots of things on the net are…

Somehow, the patent examiners neglected to do a google search, as the first page of hits for elizabot has two examples of prior art (prior to 8/2000), irc bot comes up with a few, as does chat bot. The Net::AIM module for perl (including a simple bot) was released a year earlier. The ALICEbot won prizes before the filing.

So go ahead, sue me. (sosumi-bing!) But first you have to figure out if the entity on the other end of the chat is me or a bot.

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Popping up for a moment

Could bad handwriting be an encryption mechanisim? Would attempting to read that handwriting be a violation of the DMCA?

Hillary Rosen (RIAA) notes:

“In the age of $150 sneakers, $12 movie prices and $40 video games, I’m just unsympathetic,” Rosen says. “At any price in the $10 to $18 range, CDs are a great value.”

What she’s not noticing is that that $12 movie comes on dvd with interviews with the cast, outtakes, and theatrical trailers. And in some cases, the DVD of the movie is less expensive than the random soundtrack that was thrown together for a little additional profit. As for the shoes and video games, well, it’s all about style. Perhaps unpopular cd’s should sell for $5, and popular, stylish ones should go for $20.

Janis Ian has a good idea: Take the out of print catalogs from all the majors and put them online in MP3. Charge $.25 a song, and see what happens in a year. It opens up lots of material that is not readily availiable, tries something new in search of a model, and more importantly, would make digital copies of some lps that I have easy to get. (that means you AOLTW, bring the Talking Heads out of the vault.)

One final note about Digital Rights Management, or rather the right to reach my digital in box (the one version of DRM that I support). I’ve been testing SpamAssassin for the past week and a half, and so far we’re at 3 false positives, (including a reminder that I need to pay my dsl bill), 12 false negatives, 720 non-spam, and 350 spam. Pretty good, but the false positives could have been really bad.

In a couple of ways, SpamAssassin is taking the wrong approach to the problem, in that the difference between spam and non-spam is permission, not content. It scans content, technical header issues, and realtime blacklists. Of these, the last 2 are good technical predictors in the general case. But with the first, SpamAssassin is taking the same track that the virus scanners have taken on Windows in the last 10 years, that is look for things that look suspicious. The criteria are public, so anyone can work to get past it. It’s going to be a constant war to keep spam definitions up to date in the face of ever changing incoming spam.

But the problem of permission is something that’s not easy to solve. It needs to be easy and automated for both the sender & receiver, a distributed system, and attack resistant. Ideally it would not be a boil the ocean scheme. But more on this later.

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