Submitted by C B Wright on

General Protection Fault, by Jeff Darlington.

The thing I like most about the World Wide Web is that because entry into the medium is relatively cheap (relatively when compared to other publishing mediums, not when compared to, say, the price of milk) it's possible to just try something and see how it all shakes out. The penalty involved with "failure" on the web is usually that nobody shows up. That's pretty low-risk compared to the penalty for publishing failures in the real world, which generally involves suffering considerable financial loss.

One of the best examples of the Let's See How This Shakes Out school of publishing is National Novel Writing Month, or "NaNoWriMo" for those of us who can't be bothered to spell that out every time we refer to it.

A Brief Note To All My Friends In The Spam Industry

Submitted by C B Wright on

From College Roomies From Hell!!!, by Maritza Campos.

This message is for all my friends in the email spam community -- you know who you are -- and I hope that you'll read what I have to say very closely.

Guys, I know my spam. I've seen a lot of your work over the years. I've seen it grow from simple, direct advertisements for various products (mostly porn) to more complicated forms that attempt to masquerade as personal messages from people who really want you to know about various "cool sites" (containing mostly porn) to the strange and cryptic emails that are nothing but randomly generated words, to the current crowning achievement of your craft, the Nigerian Money Laundering Scam.

A little bit of research -- just a little -- should back up my credibility here. A simple search through your databases should find at least one of my email addresses on every single mailing list you have. I'm saying this because I want you guys to know that I'm very familiar with your work, so I have the background to back up what I'm about to tell you.

You guys are getting sloppy. It's embarrassing.

Reinventing The Square Wheel

Submitted by C B Wright on

From Lost and Found, by Matt Milligan. Nevermind what it is... look at the shiny.

You can almost set your watch to it: every year some president or spokesman from a company that isn't Microsoft makes the grandiose pronouncement that Personal Computers are dead, and that the successor to the PC just happens to be, by nothing more than fortuitous coincidence, something they happen to be selling at the time.

This time around it's Johnathan Schwartz, president of Sun Microsystems. Sun actually has a grand tradition of heralding the end of Personal Computers -- Sun has used the phrase "The Network Is the Computer" for years, trying to shift the focus of computer use to the internet, to programs that run over networks instead of on your hard drive... but I suspect they'd be happy with anything that would rip users away from Microsoft's lock on desktop computers and get them to focus on other ways to "do stuff with those computer things."

Of course, all these companies who talk about how the PC is going to be replaced by other things -- usually the internet or a business network -- try very hard to convince us that, from our perspective, nothing will actually "change." Our end-user experience will be exactly the same, they claim. We won't realize that when we boot up our machines we'll be reaching across the internet to retrieve all our data, access all our programs, and do all the things we've been doing with our computers. Write a note to a friend, write the great American novel, balance your checkbook, do your taxes... even, God forbid, publish a web comic, all of these things can be done with programs on the internet, through your web browser, via java applets or Microsoft .NET, or something else they haven't bothered to fill us in on, and -- here's the important part -- we'll never know the difference.

After carefully considering this Prophetic Vision of Silicon Developments Yet To Come, I have composed a response that I feel accurately sums up my opinion:


Open By Any Other Name Is Closed

Submitted by C B Wright on

From Help Desk, by yours truly.

Once upon a time there was a group named OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), a

"not-for-profit, global consortium that drives the development, convergence and adoption of e-business standards."

The purpose of OASIS was, simply, to come up with a bunch of standards that its members would agree on, so that when business technology was built it would operate in such a way so that it would work everywhere. The groups sponsors included giants in the computer industry, such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and even Microsoft. The group would meet to try and work out, for example, a standard way to exchange information about security vulnerabilities of applications exposed to networks, or a universally accessable system for writing structured documents using SGML or XML. Things that were useful, in other words, for business that needed to transmit information from one place to another without worrying about whether or not the place receiving the information was going to understand what was being sent.

One day OASIS decided it would be a great idea if there was an open standard for word processing application suites that provided a universal file format for text documents, spreadsheets, charts, and graphics. This standard, which they called OpenDocument, was a royalty-free file format that used another standard, XML, as the way that information in these documents would be stored. Any word processing program could use this standard royalty-free, and any word processing program that did use this standard would be able to read a file created by any other word processing program that also supported this standard. Suddenly it was possible to focus on creating your information instead of worrying over which program to use to create it.

On May 23, 2005, OASIS' members approved the OpenDocument standard.

On August 29, 2005, Peter Quinn, Chief Information Officer of the Information Technology Division of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced that the state would use OpenDocument as its official documentation standard.

Shortly thereafter, Microsoft had a cow.

The Lawyers Went Down To Delhi

Submitted by C B Wright on

From Lost and Found, by Matt Milligan.

Edited 6 Sept 2005: I've been meaning to update this article for days, and I've been irresponsibly lax in not doing so. It has been pointed out by a reader that what the MPAA has done in Delhi is in violation of the Indian constitution, and will inevitably be overturned by their Supreme Court. This is a very good thing. That said, that the MPAA managed to convince a magistrate to authorize something that violates Indian law doesn't make me feel much better about the situation.

The Motion Picture Association of America is concerned about piracy -- specifically, about people pirating movies and distributing them on bootleg DVDs and over the internet. They're so concerned that they have even set up a space on their website where they publish press releases about the war on digital piracy. These press releases are usually in Microsoft Word format, occasionally in PDF format, and proudly announce all the victories that Hollywood has achieved in its never-ending war against the people who illegally sell their product at a price much closer to what most of it is actually worth.

A PDF of a press release for July 26, 2005, for example, positively crowed about four lawsuits they filed in Waco, Texas against individuals who were illegally downloading and swapping movies online using peer to peer software. A Microsoft Word version of a press release for July 28, 2005 describes similar action taken against three individuals living in Rochester, New York.

Reading through these press releases, one wonders if the MPAA might be encountering a problem in regards to scale. Only four people? Only three people? Doesn't it take an awful lot of time and effort to catch people in the act of piracy? Isn't a three or four person lawsuit a rather unsatisfying return on your investment?

The MPAA apparently thinks so, because a press release issued on July 27, 2005 reveals a new, more efficient method of catching pirates: get a judge to give you the authority to search anywhere you want, in an entire city.

The city in question? Delhi, India, population 13,782,976.

That's right: the city has homes and offices for 13,782,976 people, and the MPAA can tell the police to search every single one of them. Just in case.