Joho the BlogDecember 2002 - Joho the Blog

December 31, 2002

Smart Isenberg, Selectively Dumb Bush

David Isenberg’s latest SMART letter (#81) is out, and it’s another good ‘un. The bulk of the issue talks about his recent trip to Middle Earth, um, New Zealand, a place that may be small enough to be smart enough to do the Right Thing about telecommunications. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet posted it on his website.

David includes a quotation from Mark Crispin Miller:

“[U.S. President George W. Bush] has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he’s speaking punitively, when he’s talking about violence, when he’s talking about revenge. When he struts and thumps his chest, his syntax and grammar are fine. It’s only when he leaps into the wild blue yonder of compassion, or idealism, or altruism, that he makes these hilarious mistakes.”

Mark Crispin Miller author of The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder, quoted in “Bush Anything But Moronic,” by Murray Whyte, Toronto Star, November 28, 2002.

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Denise on Creative Commons

Denise at Bag ‘n’ Baggage describes her thought process in using a Creative Commons license. It’s a helpful discussion by a bloggin’ lawyer. She also answers reader’s questions.

The Creative Commons has its own useful blog.


Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Eric disagrees with my comments about why digital ID schemes need to be driven from the bottom up based on the real needs of the market. I’m just not sure he’s disagreeing with what I’m actually saying.

I’m saying that I’m wary of digID schemes driven from the top down because they are not addressing the real needs of the market; those needs are already being addressed in a thousand different ways. Somehow this comes across as elitist in Eric’s re-statement of it. Or maybe he’s just teasing me. Anyway, the substance of Eric’s reply is that, in caps, “IT’S ALREADY HERE.” The Big Boys are already aggregating and blacklisting.

Eric’s been doing us all a service by pointing this out. We should do what we can (i.e., precious little) to fight the Big Boys’ plans. But rushing to support another top-down scheme, albeit one that is far better and far more focused on the rights of the individual, isn’t necessarily the right way to counteract the predatory ID schemes already coming at us. Here are two reasons why not: First, if there’s no market demand for such a system – and there isn’t – it won’t work. Second, even if there were, that wouldn’t stop the anti-market Big Boys from imposing their will on us.

So, I can’t get too het up about supporting a humane digital ID scheme that will bring with it — necessarily, according to Bryan — a DRM scenario that, IMO, is as close to a nightmare as we can dream.

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Bottom-up DigID

Tig’s Corner says what I’ve been trying to say about DigID: “… unless there are applications which use digital id, why will I want to use them?” Right on. We’ve got a bunch of digital id capabilities already, each solving some real problem such as: How can I trust that you’ve sent me money for the thing I sold you at eBay? How can I be sure that you have the right to change the way my daily email newsletter from Slate is delivered? How can I be sure that your company isn’t a Nigerian scam? To each of these questions of authority and authorization, we have developed good enough answers. Imposing a top-down, infrastructure-wide solution – even one where we get to control our IDs, which is (as everyone in the thread agrees) an absolute requirement – will fail because there is no market demand for it. It will be over-engineered and will bring with it the known tendencies towards abuse in favor of benefits that the market hasn’t asked for.

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Keep Free Software Free

By Jay Sulzberger, of NY’s Free Computing organization, forwarded by Seth Johnson:

Tuesday 31 December 2002: Deadline for Comments on W3C Patents Policy

In the past two years the Free Software Movement has moved W3C, the Official Standards Body of the World Wide Web, from a proposed patent policy, which would have, in future, denied us our present right to full and free use of free software to build the Web, to a policy intended to guarantee that free software may be used without fear of patent encumbrances. This move is an important victory for us. But the present proposed policy on patents has a bug that is worth fixing. The mechanism of the bug is non-obvious, except to people who have studied the GPL and certain other free software licenses. It is a bug that, if the proposal is made an official standard, would allow for patent encumbrances to be laid on certain free software in circumstances where today no encumbrance is allowed.

Here is what the Free Software Foundation says on its front page about this bug:

The W3C “Royalty-Free” patent policy proposal does not protect the rights of the Free Software community to full participation in the implementation and extension of web standards. Please read more on this issue and send a comment to the W3C.

Part of the effort that moved the W3C to its present position was a furious outpouring of comments in opposition to the original proposal of the Englobulators:

The fix needed right now is a small fix. But the W3C must again be reminded with what jealous vigor we guard our right to build our Web the way we have built it down to this day, using free software.

The bug appears in Item 3 of Section 3, titled “W3C Royalty-Free (RF) Licensing Requirements”, of the present proposal:

This Item allows for a supposedly free grant to use a patent to be so restricted that a piece of Web infrastructure software might be encumbered if used for some non-Web use. Since the GPL does not allow such encumbrancing, GPL-ed Web software re-purposed for non-Web use could not be legally freely redistributed.

Please read the Free Software Foundation’s page on this bug:

The text of the page is below.

Here is the official Last Call for Comments:

If you write a comment in your own words, for repair of the bug, it will help.

Jay Sulzberger
Corresponding Secretary LXNY
LXNY is New York’s Free Computing Organization.

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Sad Perl

As I’ve been messing around with perl a little this morning, trying to learn it more systematically, I’ve been feeling gravity tugging on my eyes and hearing the morning quiet more acutely than usual.

It took me a few minutes to realize why a programming language is making me sad. I’m mourning Daniel Pearl.

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An AI challenge

I just read a letter to the editor that listed as benefits of casino gambling what were actually disadvantages. It took me two sentences to suspect it was sarcastic and three to confirm it. In fact, the writer had to get all blatant about it: “Upticks in crime, problem gambling, and other harmful social consequences are things we all need.” A subtler writer would have left the pejoratives out. We still would have recognized it as sarcasm if the claims were outrageous enough.

Here’s my point: Sarcasm has to be a tough one for AI.

Ironically, Joseph Weizenbaum’s ELIZA program that responded as if it were a Rogerian psychologist was taken seriously by a surprising number of people although Weizenbaum intended its content to be a parody. (You can play it online here.)

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Searching Kafka

This is how it happens. Pettiness is the most subversive enemy of freedom.


December 30, 2002


I’d blog more, but our downstairs tenants (it’s a 2-family house) have just had their (= our) oil heater turned off by The Officials. Jeez, like a some smoke and sparks ever hurt anyone!

So, now it’s off to spend the rest of the day and thousands of dollars getting it fixed. Gas conversion here we come!

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Wireless Manifesto

There’s a manifesto proclaiming a “wireless commons” that has me just puzzled enough that I haven’t signed it. It proclaims the virtues of wireless connectivity (using unlicensed spectrum, not Open Spectrum), and then commits the signatories to some type of support in the wireless build-out:

Becoming a part of the commons means being more than a consumer. By signing your name below, you become an active participant in a network that is far more than the sum of its users. You will strive to solve the social, political and technical challenges we face. You will provide the resources your community consumes by co-operating with total strangers to build the network that we all dream of.

I don’t think I can live up to that demand, for I am primarily a bandwidth consumer; I do have have a wifi transmitter that my neighbors could use. Does that mean I can sign?

Anyway, a “wireless commons” is a phrase worth floating.


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