24 August 2002
Patent nonsense (1)

So apparently British Telecom was combing through its archives and found something bearing U.S. patent number 4,873,662 which, BT thought, was the basis for the hyperlink. Visions of dollar signs (what with sterling giving way to the euro, doncha know) danced in their heads, and they hit up more than a dozen ISPs for licensing fees. When said ISPs told BT to go pound sand, BT decided to make a test case out of one of them: the soon-to-be-transmogrified Prodigy.

Prodigy, asserting that BT was full of it, petitioned for summary judgment to have the case thrown out, and now Judge Colleen McMahon, saying that "as a matter of law, no jury could find that Prodigy infringes the [BT] patent," has ordered exactly that.

Just because I'm spiteful, here's a hyperlink to BT. (Muchas gracias: Planet Swank.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 PM)
30 August 2002
Déjà entendu

Game developer Hudson Soft and hardware manufacturer JVC say they've come up with an uncopiable CD. Well, a CD-ROM, anyway; the process does not work on audio CDs.

Any bets on how long this claim will stand?

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:38 PM)
5 September 2002
Take this dial and shove it

I've run for a number of years with two ISPs, one local and one national, mostly out of a sense of maintaining redundancy in case of emergency. This doesn't work very well, however, when the local dial doesn't answer half the time and the national service insists that you install their insipid software package or they won't answer either. (It may even be true; I set up standard Windows DUNs for their two local numbers and neither one of them will connect.)

Broadband, you say? For this? Sheesh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 PM)
9 September 2002
Lessons from life (one in a series)

When researching hardware to see if it's sufficiently fast, it is highly sub-optimal to rely on the judgment of the guy who took six years to implement a program enhancement.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:34 PM)
10 September 2002
What color is your elephant?

Mine is that sort of off-white that distinguishes, or fails to distinguish, too many PCs. It cost about as much as a small sedan, and was purchased on the strength of the same model having served a subsidiary office reasonably well for the past couple of seasons. Curiously — certainly The Man From Tech Support found it curious — setting the box to exactly the same parameters used by its faraway sister produced unsatisfactory results.

Of course, like any piece of hardware these days, it has more settings than Oneida, and only the expert can arrange them all on the first try. Definitely lets me out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 PM)
27 September 2002
Neither tech nor support

Problem: Printer spits out 0.93 page (tractor-fed) in 17 seconds, then pauses 43 seconds before beginning the next 0.93 page.

Proffered solution: Reduce printer memory by one-third.

If this works, I'll start carrying extra anvils in the car to improve gas mileage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 PM)
4 October 2002
The Windows slam shut

Microsoft has given the Oklahoma City Public Schools until 14 October to rid themselves of software not complying with Microsoft license agreements, and the district has launched a major software-license audit.

In the first pass, the district found 1700 PCs with questionable licensing, each of which could theoretically generate a $500 fine from Redmond; a second pass is scheduled to begin today. "I think we're in pretty good shape," said Jerry Dimmitt, team leader for the audit, "but we have so many computers it will be difficult to catch everything." The district has a site license from Microsoft for volume purchases, but it doesn't cover software acquired before the license, and most of the offending stuff, as it happens, is installed on PCs donated to the district, many of which will have to be weeded out to pass the audit.

The district is also putting out a list of minimum standards for donated machines, which reads as follows:

Minimum Hardware Requirements:
  • Pentium III processor with 64 MB Memory, 6GB Hard Drive, 3.5" Floppy, CD- ROM, SoundBlaster sound adapter, and an Ethernet 10/100 network adapter.
  • Monitor- 15" SVGA 1024x680, .28 pitch with an IBM standard monitor connector.
  • Keyboard- 101 key with a PS2 connector
  • Mouse- 2 button with or without the scroll wheel. PS2 connector.
A certificate of license for that product must accompany any software on the donated computers.

So don't even think about bringing over that old 286.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
7 October 2002
Lessons from life (another in a series)

When Microsoft states up front that the "maximum download" for an operating-system update is 30 MB, you can usually be sure that you're not going to get by with a mere 1.9.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
19 October 2002
DOS vidanya

Sean McEntee at GI Party remembers what it was like in the ostensible Good Old Days before Windows of BillG assimilated the desktop, back when all my .BATs were in D:\BELFRY.

(Muchas gracias: Scott Wickstein.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
21 October 2002
Marked for death by Information Services

(Note: Particularly grievous or exceptionally stupid computer actions will be reported here, since it's demonstrably pointless to report them to anyone in a position to do something about it.)

Offense: Putting a notebook computer into hibernate mode instead of properly shutting it down. When the machine was awakened, it responded with a series of BSODs. (Incidentally, leaving a shortcut on the desktop to a game is seldom advisable.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:30 PM)
ADA DOA in cyberspace?

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the Internet is not a "place of public accommodation" subject to the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Southwest Airlines had been sued under the ADA by a blind man and a group of advocates for the blind, claiming that the purchase of tickets on Southwest's Web site was "extremely difficult", though apparently not impossible. Judge Patricia Seitz noted that the ADA was very specific in defining areas for which accessibility must be made available, and that no references were made therein to cyberspace.

It could have been worse. They could have wanted to fly the planes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:38 PM)
22 October 2002
Marked for death by Information Services (2)

Offense: Activating "Active Desktop" on Windows 98. There is a reason it's disabled when we hand the machines out. Desktops should be quiet, passive, inert, and they are not supposed to distract you from the work you were doing a few moments ago.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:22 PM)
23 October 2002
Computing worthy of trust

When Microsoft announced its Palladium ("Trustworthy Computing") initiative, the cynics among us reacted predictably: Redmond's plan to (among other things) build anti-copying technology into both operating system and hardware was greeted with exactly the sort of grumbling you'd expect when industry Goliaths huddle to plot against individual Davids.

"Digital rights management," the current euphemism for thwarting fair use, is of course part of Palladium, but what concerned some of the cypherpunks was the possibility that enforcement of software licenses might be on the menu as well. (Anyone who has suffered through the Windows XP "activation" farce should fear this prospect.) Microsoft denies such a thing is being planned, but just in case, a member of the opposition went ahead and filed patents for software-license management based on what is known about the Palladium architecture. Needless to say, the patent holder, Lucky Green, is not interested in managing software licenses; his goal is to keep Microsoft at bay. Whether this will work is arguable, but I persist in believing that keeping PCs as open as possible is a Good Thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
26 October 2002
Harry Potter and the Service Pack 1

Fritz Schranck runs the clock forward thirty-five years, and how surprised are you?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
7 November 2002
Skies and screens of blue

James Lileks, waxing philosophical about the interaction of the divine and the damnable:

This is where computers meet the realms of philosophy: if a thing is impossible, yet appears before you, then it obviously is not impossible. Yet it is not possible for it to be possible. All those philosophers who wondered if it was possible for God to create an object He could not move are missing the point. If God is running Windows, then He will just get an error message informing Him that the object does not exist.

And, being God, He will have known in advance He would get that message.

And I thank Him that He apparently doesn't think in hex; I have enough trouble with ten commandments, let alone sixteen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
20 November 2002
Lessons from life (one in a series)

Tape drives interpret the position of the write-protect device differently from the way you or I (especially I) would do it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
You could look it up

For poor Page, "RTFM" is honored mostly — make that exclusively — in the breach:

If you're a user, you're not expected to know everything there is to know about a system. Fair enough. That's why people like me are paid to write instructions, documentation, and manuals, whatever, for you. But if I take the time to write it, you can take the time to read it. Show some initiative, for cryin' out loud!

Unfortunately, this willful sort of ignorance extends into other areas of technology. I've been known to hang out on a couple of automotive message boards, and when the Same Damn Questions recur, I'm not above being snippy enough to tack on "Further details can be found in Section [whatever] of your owner's manual." And, sure enough, the next reply is I bought it used and I don't have one.

Well, why the hell not? You can't go to the dealership and plunk down $25 for something to show you how your expensive little playpretty actually works? I bet you spent more than that upgrading your goddamn stereo, you corksoaking icehole. But no, you'll be back here in three months begging for help with your "check engine" light because you can't bear the thought of paying the shop to hook up a scan tool.

And then I erase all that and type "See your nearest authorized dealer for a copy." Wonderful things, those Terms of Service.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 PM)
21 November 2002
Unintellectual property

"The Digital Millennium Copyright Act doesn't affect me," you sniff. "I don't download music and I don't pirate software. All those people complaining about it — nothing but a bunch of thieves trying to justify themselves."

Well, think again, chum, and by "again" I mean "once." Storm Concepts operates a site called FatWallet.com; its members utilize an extensive array of message boards to swap information about bargains available online. Perfectly harmless, right? Then some big-name retailers threatened the site with legal action under the DMCA, claiming that their sale prices are trade secrets, hence actionable. Subsequently, FatWallet.com asked members to refrain from posting prices from those retailers, lest the lawyers escalate the attack.

Now ask yourself: Are people who are trying to save money thieves? If you're prepared to answer "Yes" to this question, I fully expect you to pay full MSRP on your next car, and to brag about it to all your neighbors. I expect you to call the police and complain about everyone in line during two-for-one Wednesdays at Whataburger. And I expect you to take the standard deduction on your Federal tax return for the rest of your unnatural life.

Or you can do us all a favor and fall on your sword right now. If you don't have a sword, get one. And don't expect a discount.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:36 PM)
4 December 2002
Waving it in the wind

Even if you've never heard of Bonzi Software, you've seen their ads: they look like half-assed (maybe quarter-assed) imitations of Windows dialog boxes, usually titled "Message Alert" or something comparably absurd. You're too smart to click on those silly things? Then you're not part of the class-action suit filed against Bonzi by a Pacific Northwest legal firm.

While I personally wouldn't mind seeing Bonzi and its imitators forced to gargle with ground glass, I'm not quite sure that litigation is the answer, and I'm reasonably certain that the outcome of this suit will be a windfall for the lawyers and little or nothing for anyone else. And right now, the people I really want to see disemboweled with a slotted spoon are the ones who, when you close their popup ad, ask if you'd like to change your start page to their sleazy site. Not even Bonzi does that — yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:36 PM)
6 December 2002
FatWallet revisited

Last time, you'll remember, FatWallet.com was being threatened under the DMCA by retailers who claimed that their prices were trade secrets and therefore covered by copyright. One of those retailers, the ever-surly Wal-Mart, went so far as to subpoena FatWallet to demand the name of the person posting Wal-Mart prices on FatWallet's message board. How were these prices obtained? Newspaper inserts require a certain amount of lead time, online prices are right there where you can see them, and, well, you can guess the rest.

A law clinic at UC Berkeley said that they would fight Wal-Mart's subpoena and DMCA claims on behalf of FatWallet. Wal-Mart, for its part, has decided to cool its jets for now.

None of this is likely to put much of a dent into the DMCA, but it's almost always a good sign when people refuse to roll over and play dead for the big shots.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:57 AM)
10 December 2002
@ are belong to us

In France, don't be caught calling @ the "at sign". It is the arobase.

They're still looking for a suitably-Gallic replacement for "email", though.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:46 AM)
The Real truth

Dave Dobbs is sorely vexed with the sore vexation that is RealPlayer:

[J]ust about every time I'm forced to use it because a stream is in ram format it tells me I need to upgrade.

I actually removed the miserable thing from one of our PC fleet today for failing to comply with a "Do not show this message again" request.

I mean, Microsoft's various Media Whatzits are annoying, but they generally shut up when told to.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:26 PM)
12 December 2002
Size matters after all

The Interactive Advertising Bureau would like you to know this:

In IAB ad effectiveness research conducted by Marketing Evolution's Rex Briggs, it was found that "…the larger format sizes, which are naturally more visible and provide more creative freedom, did prove to be significantly more effective than smaller, standard banners across all campaigns."

In related studies, it was found that, all else being equal, deer will eat significantly more of your garden than will squirrels, and that getting an inoculation in each arm hurts between 1.9 and 2.1 times as much as getting a single inoculation in one arm.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:27 PM)
15 December 2002

I have never paid a great deal of attention to what Google thinks is its Zeitgeist, if only because I am more comfortable thinking of Google as a tool rather than as a breeding ground for the eventual Masters of the Universe.

Fortunately, this presents an opportunity for Colby Cosh to contemplate our Googlecentric future:

Do you think the people who came up with the name "Google" knew that they would essentially be running the world within a few years, and they deliberately gave their creation a cutesy, frankly imbecilic name so we wouldn't despise and fear them? The typical instinct would be to create a menacing, ahistorical brand that made you think of a gory metal maw gnawing live babies by the cord. Like "Omnix" or "Info-stopheles" or "Lycos".

In the latter case, substitute "Point" and "Tripod" for "live babies", and the truth-to-poetry ratio goes up substantially.

Of course, my greatest regret is that former Yahoo! CEO Tim Koogle has yet to serve time at Google.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 AM)
The nine billion ZIP codes of God

Patrick Nielsen Hayden finds Google's actual physical plant somewhat disconcerting:

It's like discovering that the Holy Spirit has a storefront headquarters, and it's in Fresno. That can't be. Like the downward-diving pigeon, Google is numinous, immanent, and everywhere at once. It doesn't have a street address, for cry eye.

Remind me not to mention what's at 1313 South Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 PM)
18 December 2002
I seek bucks

According to U.S. Patent #6,449,344, filed in 1997 and granted this fall, instant messaging as we know it was invented by Mirabilis, the Israeli firm which created the ICQ IM client, now a part of the lumbering AOL Time Warner conglomerate. This will come as a surprise to those of us who were sending IMs in the middle 80s on QuantumLink, an online service dedicated to the Commodore 64 computer, whose parent company is now known as, um, America Online.

It's difficult to imagine why AOL would bother to try to get a patent on this fairly nebulous concept, unless it's to further annoy rivals who would like access to AOL's AIM and ICQ users, and to toss a monkey wrench into the FCC's demand that AOL, as a condition of the merger that put it under Time Warner's tent, open up its IM network. Armed with a patent, AOL could theoretically stall for twenty years or so. But given AOL Time Warner's always-precarious financial condition, the most likely result of the patent, should it stand up in court, is that AOL will seek licensing revenue from firms with IM clients of their own.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
21 December 2002
What you see is what you get

Flip Wilson used to say that a lot on his NBC-TV variety show in the late Sixties; as "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get," it was a big hit for the Dramatics in 1971. I was eighteen in 1971 and had no real interest in computers, let alone how this phrase might apply to them.

Eventually, of course, it became an acronym: WYSIWYG. And when it did, Jeff Jarvis was there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 PM)
22 December 2002
It's not easy bleeding green

The European Union's new "electroscrap" rules contain a provision which is intended to reduce the number of discarded inkjet cartridges on the Continent. Manufacturers are now barred from installing smart chips inside their cartridges to insure that only the OEM brand can be used as a replacement, or to prevent the use of refill kits. Given the commodity status of inkjet printers these days, this is rather like requiring Schick and Gillette razors to accept each other's blades.

Alternatively, the EU could have mandated something resembling an incentive, a couple of euros for your used cartridges from your nearest recycling center, which would then send them back to the manufacturer for salvage, but I suppose this sounds too mercenary, too market-oriented — in short, too American.


Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
3 January 2003
Hobson v1.0

You're working in a software package, and at some point you encounter a dialog with a single option: Exit Program. What do you do?

If you said anything other than "exit the program," you probably work here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
23 January 2003
Patent nonsense (2)

SBC Communications, whose main contribution to the Internet up to this point has been putting perennial money-loser Prodigy out of its misery, is now claiming a patent on the invention of HTML frames.

I expect Bill Gates will now demand royalties from the people selling Ginsu knives (only 19.95!) for daring to use the number "95", which is, after all, a version of Windows.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:19 AM)
26 January 2003
You can't keep a good virus down

What with the world's attention suddenly focused on SQL Slammer, older viruses like the much-feared Klez are, like, just so 2001, you know? But shed no tears for Klez; its future is assured.

(Muchas gracias: Doc Searls.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 AM)
30 January 2003
Four score and seven edits ago

Well, this is kinda semi-neat: Abraham Lincoln's 1863 address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. (I live for the moment when PowerPoint perishes from the earth.)

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 AM)
5 February 2003
And bullet holes may affect respiration

In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Microsoft made the following startling declaration:

To the extent the open-source model gains increasing market acceptance, sales of the company's products may decline, the company may have to reduce the prices it charges for its products, and revenues and operating margins may consequently decline.

In a footnote, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates noted that rainfall is sporadic at best in the Mojave Desert, and that children under six should not drink bleach.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 AM)
11 February 2003
No gander left unsauced

Retired (yeah, that's the word) computer vandal Kevin Mitnick has had his Web site hacked twice in the last couple of weeks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
28 February 2003
Cast your dreams to the wind

Former videogame power Sega, having abandoned its Dreamcast console, was getting ready to sell itself to pinball manufacturer Sammy. But now Sega may have a couple of other suitors waiting in the wings: Electronic Arts, current videogame power, and Microsoft, current videogame wannabe.

There is reason to think Sega might prefer EA over Microsoft. Presumably, were Microsoft to take over, Sega would become a provider of Xbox games only; EA provides games for multiple platforms, and an EA-controlled Sega would likely follow suit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
12 March 2003
Lessons from life (one in a series)

Do not ask so-called Value-Added Resellers for technical advice. You will have better luck getting diet hints from Krispy Kreme.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:31 PM)
16 March 2003
She's so fine, my 419

By now, the 419/Nigerian Scam is old news. Been there, done that. And yes, there's a T-shirt.

How come I never think of things like this?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
24 March 2003
Block that spam!

Phil Goldman says you get too much spam, which is almost certainly true, and he's going to do something about it, for a small fee.

Goldman's new Mailblocks service incorporates a so-called "Challenge/Response" mode. If you're sending mail to a Mailblocks user and you're not in that user's address book, the mail is not delivered until (1) you receive an auto-generated message from Mailblocks and (2) you reply with the authentication code included in that message. Spammers, of course, don't reply, since they sent out a bogus reply address to begin with and therefore will not receive the authentication code. Once in your recipient's address book, you can send mail with no interruptions.

Mailblocks also permits aliases which will allow computer-generated mail that is wanted — mailing lists, newsletters, e-commerce confirmations and the like — to pass through without challenge.

Undelivered mail is held in "quarantine" for two weeks and then automatically deleted; the recipient can inspect it at any time. Mailblocks supports both POP3 and IMAP, regular email clients or Web-based mail.

This service has only been up and running for a few hours, so I can't tell you how well it works. But for a mere ten bucks a year (twenty-five bucks for four times the storage space), it may be hard to resist.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
25 March 2003
Passing of a pioneer

When I hit the keyboard on my svelte little Toshiba Satellite, I don't often think about some of the ostensible "portables" that preceded it, although I do remember what it was like to schlep around an Osborne 1, a machine that was considered "portable" if you had forearms like Popeye the Sailor. (At one time I had two of these things, which today would be like having separate anchors for port and starboard.)

Adam Osborne, who came up with the idea for this spiffy (for 1981) box and sold lots of them, died last week in India at 64.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 AM)
27 March 2003
Beyond repair

Microsoft's latest Security Bulletin discloses a hitherto-undetected flaw in Windows NT 4.0, 2000 and XP which affects the Remote Procedure Call Endpoint Mapper, usually accessible via port 135. While the flaw does not allow an attacker to gain access to the machine, it is susceptible to the dreaded Denial of Service attack.

What's interesting about this is that while Microsoft has rushed out patches for 2000 and for XP, there will be no patch for NT 4.0. Redmond explains:

Although Windows NT 4.0 is affected by this vulnerability, Microsoft cannot provide a patch for this vulnerabilty for Windows NT 4.0. The architectural limitations of Windows NT 4.0 do not support the changes that would be required to remove this vulnerability.

Instead, they suggest, you enable your firewall to block port 135. (What? You don't have a firewall? What's wrong with you?)

This is, I think, the first time that Microsoft has actually admitted they couldn't fix something.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:15 PM)
5 April 2003
Filter this

For some time now, there's been some general uneasiness about the placement of items on Google's News pages. Now it seems that Google's very definition of "news" is arguable: The Register reports that corporate and NGO press releases can be, and occasionally are, considered to be "news" in the estimation of Google, and that Google has had to backpedal on its claim that the selection is entirely computer-based. How bad is it?

[A] search for "cluster bombs" on Google News yielded five stories, and four of them were press releases. Only one was a "news story".

I ran this search myself, and this time more than five stories came up, but the first few pages were indeed larded with press releases. Under pressure, Google has announced the release of official guidelines for what is, and what isn't, a news site, which are supposed to be due some time Monday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 PM)
10 April 2003
Google's Kinda Like News

Last weekend The Register broke the story that Google News was actually accepting press releases from nonprofits and from corporate PR departments and passing them off as, well, news; some of you may have read about it here.

It gets worse. The Register has now determined that Google, far from allowing some presumably independent computer program to select its news links, is actually selling them, and the company is looking to hire someone to, um, "develop...relationships with news sources." And this, mind you, while Google maintains that placement on the Google News page is selected by computer.

I don't have a particular problem with paid links, so long as they are clearly identified as such; however, I would be much happier (as would The Register) if Google would spell out its policy on these things in something resembling plain English.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
13 April 2003
Too many fossils in this coal

Lynn Sislo wants to know:

Why can't we sue software companies for being a pack of idiots?

Because we agreed not to when we clicked on that "I Accept" box in the installation routine, thereby legally binding us to their definition of "warranty", which translates roughly as "Tough tesseracts, Casper, you're on your own."

Of course, the very nature of software — complex at the migraine-inducing level, yet viewed by the end user as nothing more elaborate than a garden rake — almost certainly insures that we will view it negatively.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:53 AM)
14 April 2003
We got your tort reform right here

Columnist Daniels at 411mania.com does the math on the RIAA's lawsuit against college students:

The lawsuit...claims damages of $150,000 per copyrighted work...for up to 700,000 files.

For those of you who don't have a calculator handy, they are suing four college students for more than 96 BILLION dollars. And that's just ONE of the cases.

So, what you have NOW is, not only is the RIAA shutting down corporate websites who are trying to make money... NOW they’re suing college students, who can probably barely afford their next dinner not provided by the dining hall, and who probably make about $8,000/year, much less afford a lawyer for the years that they may be stuck in legal wrangling. It's ridiculous and it should make you sick to your stomach. See, there's another group in the United States that use similar strong-arm tactics to intimidate their marks into submission, but we try to put the Mafia in prison all the time.

Not that the record industry has ever had any connection to the Mob, of course.

Oh, wait....

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
30 April 2003
Next: the Auckland A's

NZ Pundit reports that the New Zealand government spent $500,000 US (about 900,000 Enzed bucks) to buy the newzealand.com domain name for a tourism site, which caused some stir in Parliament.

What makes this even weirder is that the government had first gone to the World Intellectual Property Organization and charged that Virtual Countries, the Seattle-based firm that owned the domain, had no right to it because "New Zealand" was a trademark belonging to the nation and Virtual Countries had no legitimate interest in it. WIPO, unimpressed by this argument, dismissed New Zealand's claim.

So, unable to force the domain owner to give it up, the government — hence, the taxpayers — decided to buy it. I can conclude only that they wanted this domain very, very badly.

Would newzealand.co.nz have been so bad?

(Via Tim Blair)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:55 AM)
2 May 2003
Blade running

As of last night (two deleted, one added), I have twenty-three spam filters working on my incoming mail; their success ratio is somewhere between not much and zilch, but any spam I don't have to look at counts as a very minor moral victory.

The email provider for this domain recently installed a server-level despamming system called Vipul's Razor, which is supposed to catch the varmints before they reach my POP3 box. I set it up last night for my primary mailbox, and it caught fifteen of twenty-seven before I was able to provide it any feedback. Not too bad. Better, there were no false positives: nothing I actually wanted was misidentified as spam.

I'll leave this in place for a while and see if it's sufficient, or if I need to go to a more activist, locally-based system like MailFrontier's Matador.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
Four songs per second

No, it's not the sequel to Moby's 1000-beats-per-minute "Thousand"; it's the approximate sales volume at Apple's Music Store, which moved some 275,000 tracks in its first 18 hours of operation.

The Register notes that two labels have signed up for the eventual Windows version of the Apple store, and wonders about it:

We'd have thought Apple would have built such a licence into its agreement with the labels from the word go, but maybe that's not the case.

As would I. Is there some reason — other than sheer volume — why the music industry should fear Windows users more than they fear Macintosh users?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
11 May 2003
Exhibit A

The ever-electric Joni, with the Scorn-O-Meter turned up past Withering:

Every idiot with a copy (bootlegged or otherwise) of Microsnot's Front Page has fancied himself a web master, with horrifying consequences.

If it's any consolation, I got to this level of idiocy with mere text editors.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:24 AM)
13 May 2003
Because they can

The Recording Industry Association of America sends out little bots to crawl around Web space and look for copyrighted music files, and should any be found, the lawyers grind out the boilerplate.

They ground out some of it to the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Pennsylvania State University, which puzzled department officials, inasmuch as there weren't any such files on their servers. Eventually they found what the bot had: a filkish tune about a gamma-ray satellite, written by Dr Peter Usher, which the bot had misidentified as a song by R&B yawner Usher.

The RIAA noted in its apology to Penn State that it does not require its enforcers to audition files called into question. Similarly, you'd hardly expect Stalin to keep track of every single kulak.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
21 May 2003
Marked for death by Information Services (3)

Offense: Checking out a corporate notebook and bringing it back defiled with some sixty-four pieces of assorted spyware and associated crap.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:47 PM)
26 May 2003
Now he tells us

This frightening little gem turned up at Tony Talks Tech:

Monday morning is the most likely time for a [corporate] website to crash. It's not because hackers like to get up early and start the workweek off with a few extra machines to take down, but because in-house IT staff come into the office with their groggy brains chock full of ideas they had over the weekend. They have a "weekend inspiration" and come in Monday morning and tinker...and the website goes down. The researchers say the best uptime days are during holidays like Christmas and New Years when the IT staff stays home. But then, "as soon as you see the developers logging on again, the trouble starts."

Hmmm. Monday is on a Tuesday this week, so let's see what happens.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 PM)
29 May 2003
Tweedledum, Tweedledee settle

Last year, AOL Time Warner, corporate parent of What's Left of Netscape, filed a nuisance suit against Microsoft, complaining about the usual antitrust bushwa. Today, Bill Gates pulled $750 million out of Redmond's petty cash to shut them the hell up.

Oh, there are the usual pleasantries, including an extension of AOL's license to use Microsoft Internet Explorer in its online service, and an agreement to make MSN's and AOL's IM clients slightly less incompatible, but there's no sign of what I'd really like to see: a joint effort to crush RealPlayer once and for all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 PM)
30 May 2003
The MS/AOL connection

Tristan Louis analyzes the Microsoft/AOL agreement, and what is most interesting about his analysis, I think, is his take on the internal politics of the two companies:

In the mid-90s, Microsoft was starting to move more into the general media space. With this agreement, Microsoft signals the completion of a shift back to its software roots. It is probably a realization that there is still a lot of growth in that arena and that it doesn't make sense from their standpoint to try to get into the media world by acquiring and/or building media assets.

On the AOL/Time-Warner front, this annoucement shows a clear power shift in who controls the company. The power is now in Time-Warner hands, with any concept of competing with Microsoft on the software end now a distant memory. Time-Warner understands media and figures that it is better to rely on an outside party to deal with the software side of the business than to try to develop things themselves.

How this fits with the rumors that AOL will be spun off from the rest of Time Warner remains to be seen, but fractiousness has been part of the corporate program ever since Warner Communications merged with/was absorbed by/ransacked Time Inc., and peace in the valley will not be bought by selling off those damnable Internet interlopers.

As for Redmond, well, they're never happier than when they're dominant.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 PM)
4 June 2003
Marked for death by Information Services (4)

Offense: Checking out a corporate notebook and bringing it back in Standby mode. I don't much care what you were doing at the time; I do care that the battery was down to 8 percent. Fortunately, I checked it over the day before it was scheduled to go out again, so it will have the benefit of an overnight charge, but dayum, people.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 PM)
10 June 2003
Doing a perfect 360

Dear Lynn:

Do you need 5¼-inch diskettes? Let me know. I have boxes of the darn things.

And a drive, should it be necessary.

Love and segment registers,


Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
Marked for death by Information Services (5)

Offense: Generating a six-hour print job and then one hour later sending an underling to ask if it's ready yet because "we need something to do."

I suggested something, but it requires an extremely detailed knowledge of anatomy, topology and non-Euclidean geometry, so I rather expect that it went undone.

(Update, 11 June, 7:05 am: They haven't picked it up yet.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:48 PM)
16 June 2003
Sex.com, lies, and VeriSign

Gary Kremen owned the presumably lucrative domain sex.com, and all was well, as the phrase goes.

Then in 1995, one Stephen Michael Cohen forged a letter from Kremen's company asking domain registrar VeriSign to transfer the domain to, um, Stephen Michael Cohen. And VeriSign promptly did so.

Six years of litigation followed. Cohen admitted to the forgery, but has thus far managed to avoid the $65 million in penalties and restitution ordered by the court. He appealed the size of the judgment to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused any relief, and last week the Supreme Court upheld the judgment. Cohen himself wasn't present; he is hiding out in Mexico.

Gary Kremen, however, has bigger fish to fry: VeriSign has refused to accept any responsibility for turning over the domain to Cohen, arguing that a domain name cannot be considered "property" in any legal sense and therefore they cannot be held liable; further, says VeriSign, if it is found liable, the entire registry system could crumble, heralding the end of the Internet as we know it.

VeriSign's Network Solutions unit has been working to clean up its act in recent years — and, not incidentally, to further limit its liability in domain disputes — but should the courts find for Kremen, it will cost NSI $100 million and what's left of its credibility.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
26 June 2003
A tapestry of delight

So we got the workhorse printer serviced, and it was good, and a day and a half later the main circuit board failed. The tech managed to get us a new board in a day, which isn't at all bad, but once it was installed, we were still a long way away from getting any work done: not only did the EPROM have to be reflashed — for some reason, it loses what brain it has when it's moved to another socket — and there are eleventy-one absurd little settings that have to be tweaked for our graphics stuff to work, which said EPROM doesn't trouble itself to save at all.

Which wouldn't have been so bad in and of itself, inasmuch as it was 4:05 or so and the clock was running down, until Chatty Cathy decided to unleash a couple hours' worth of print (on some other printer, at least). Of course, she's not going to stay late and wait for it, but if it's not done when she comes by in the morning, she'll emit the sort of whine you usually associate with misaligned disc brakes.

For the record, it took an hour to reconfigure the wounded beast, during which I uttered a number of things which would upset, if not longshoremen in Long Beach, certainly convent girls in Philadelphia.

Tomorrow, it appears, will be worse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 PM)
9 July 2003
Ink: it's what's for wasting

The nonprofit association Consumentenbond, sort of the Dutch equivalent of Consumer Reports, has taken the unusual step of recommending that its users avoid Epson-branded ink jet printers. According to The Register, the group found that the "smart" chip inside the cartridge signals "empty" when there is enough ink remaining for about 50 pages of text. The chip is used by Epson and other manufacturers to prevent users from refilling the cartridges and reusing them.

Epson questions Consumentenbond's findings and denies any skullduggery, but given my experience with current Hewlett-Packard printers — a since-discarded DeskJet 3800 would demand a new cartridge about three days (60 pages, say) before the ink actually gave out, and my current 5500 seems to be no more abstemious — I'd say that ink-jet manufacturers are making a really strong case.

For lasers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:29 AM)
12 August 2003
Tripped up in the patent minefield

The University of California owns US patent number 5,838,906, granted in 1998 after a four-year wait, which describes a method for embedding executable code in a Web page and a means to execute it in a browser. The University has engaged Eolas Technologies to administer this patent.

Eolas quickly hit upon an administration tool: sue the pants off Microsoft, whose ActiveX controls constitute a method for embedding executable code in a Web page and a means to execute it in a browser. The suit was filed in 1999, and yesterday a jury found that Microsoft was liable for infringement of the California patent. Damages of $520.6 million were assessed.

Bill Gates, of course, could pull this sum out of petty cash, though Microsoft can be expected to fight this tooth and nail — at least until the patent expires. And rival browsers might also be considered to be infringing upon the patent, but makers of rival browsers don't have this kind of money.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
13 August 2003
Worm turns

Blasted are the users, for they are afflicted with that damnable MSBlast thing. Among the blasted: the Oklahoma State Supreme Court.

I'm not even sure I want to boot up the Road Warrior tonight.

(Update, 9 pm: My trusty notebook is just fine — evidently I downloaded the pertinent patch some time during the World Tour, probably while running to the ice machine at the hotel — but Norton jumped in with a scream screen anyway, mainly because it's been almost a year since Symantec got paid.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:28 PM)
14 August 2003
Blue Screen of Math

Scott Charney, Microsoft's go-to guy for security matters, told developers at Tech.Ed 2003 in Brisbane, Australia that "half of all crashes in Windows are caused not by Microsoft code, but third-party code."

Of course, this means that half of all crashes in Windows are caused by Microsoft code.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 AM)
29 August 2003
As the worm turns

The Feds are coming down hard on Jeffrey Lee "teekid" Parson, who allegedly has admitted to rewriting the Blaster worm and turning loose his handiwork on an insufficiently-suspecting world.

What to do with a bratling like this? Michele mocks him far better than I, but the solution I like the best comes from one of her commenters, a chap named Morpheus:

[T]his little boil on the backside of the nation has caused something like tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of damage (if not billions), so a simple (or even complex) spanking is not really a suitable punishment. A nice, long, horsewhipping, followed by a few weeks in the stocks somewhere on Wall Street, followed by a 100% garnishment of his wages above, say $10k/year for life might begin to cover it.

Cracking: it's not just a job, it's indenture.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 PM)
31 August 2003
Bill Gates and the Templates of Doom

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft lost a civil suit filed by Eolas Technologies, charging patent infringement. Damages of over $500 million were assessed.

The World Wide Web Consortium convened a meeting the next week to see how this verdict would impact the Web and its future development. Microsoft, a W3C member, indicated that Internet Explorer would be revised, presumably to remove the offending code.

The Register suggests that one motivation for the Microsoft move would be to avoid paying future royalties to Eolas. (As the Bill Gates character said in an episode of The Simpsons, "I didn't get rich by writing a lot of checks.") The financial aspects mean very little to you or to me, but inasmuch as a rather large portion of us test our Web stuff on some version of IE, we may be in for some rewriting somewhere down the line. Not that we aren't constantly tweaking and editing and rewriting already, of course.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 PM)
9 September 2003
Copywronged again

You might think you had the right to open your own damn garage door.

Not necessarily.

(Muchas gracias: Hanah at Quare.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 PM)
21 September 2003
And how big is yours?

40 gigabytes, which, according to the drive manufacturer (Seagate), is forty billion bytes.

Computer manufacturers have duly copied claims like this into their advertising, complete with an explanation in tiny type, and now four chaps from L.A. have filed suit against the big brand names, charging that the practice is deceptive, that a gigabyte is not in fact one billion bytes but 1,073,741,824 (two to the thirtieth power). A "40-gigabyte drive" like mine in practice will store only 37.25 gb.

Just wait until they see how much is left after installing Windows XP.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:16 PM)
28 September 2003
A VeriStupid move

Two weeks ago, the Internet registrar VeriSign began redirecting lookups for misspelled and nonexistent .com and .net domains to its own Site Finder page in a blatant attempt to snag some advertising revenue. Critics pointed out at the time that VeriSign was breaking some antispam services which checked for invalid domains: if a domain was reported as invalid, the email was marked as spam, and Site Finder doesn't report the same way.

ICANN subsequently asked VeriSign to quit screwing around, VeriSign refused, and now the lawsuits have begun.

The Register says that VeriSign's Site Finder revenue expectations are unrealistic, even if the service isn't eventually shut down by legal action and/or technical workarounds. For individual Webmasters, this whole affair will probably be seen as yet another reason not to trust VeriSign as a domain registrar.

(Disclosure: I own two domains, one of which is registered through VeriSign's Network Solutions subsidiary.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:34 AM)
3 October 2003
VeriSign gets a dope slap

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has ordered VeriSign to shut down its controversial (and, to some of us, incredibly stupid) SiteFinder facility. SiteFinder, which VeriSign designed to intercept requests for misspelled or otherwise defective .com and .net domains, has been accused of "breaking" various spam filters and other Internet systems.

VeriSign said they would comply with the ICANN request temporarily. Said VeriSign's Russell Lewis:

During the more than two weeks that SiteFinder has been operational, there is no data to indicate that the core operation of the Domain Name System or stability of the Internet has been adversely affected. ICANN is using anecdotal and isolated issues to attempt to regulate nonregistry services.

Inasmuch as SiteFinder must consult the VeriSign registry to be able to intercept requests for domains not registered, it's difficult to see how anyone can seriously consider the facility to be a "nonregistry" service.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
16 October 2003
Apple turns a buck

Actually, 29 million of them for the quarter ending September, despite a couple of accounting charges. What's more, Apple's US retail stores, after a start which could charitably be characterized as slow, are now profitable.

Yeah, I know, I'm on one of those evil Wintel boxes. (Well, not precisely; my desktop at home has an AMD CPU, as did its three immediate predecessors.) But so long as the insanely great stuff starts on the Macintosh side of the aisle, it's clearly in my best interest to cheer Apple on.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
5 November 2003
Will greed undo geeks?

Microsoft apparently thinks so; they're offering $250,000 US for information leading to the capture and conviction of the individuals who inflicted the MSBlast worm and Sobig virus upon the computing world, part of an overall $5 million war chest.

Which is probably still cheaper than writing security patches.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:25 PM)
14 November 2003
Uplifting news

Well, whaddya know: You do have the right to open your own damn garage door after all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:49 PM)
17 November 2003
Marked for death by Information Services (6)

Whoever had the bright idea of designing an EPROM that can't survive being powered off — and somehow managed to sell it to a major printer manufacturer.

(Said printer manufacturer should also be dispatched, for buying such an asinine idea.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:26 AM)
2 December 2003
It's the Ether Bunny!

Well, I've started to assemble something resembling broadband: I have a suitable modem for the cable system (Terayon TJ 715 series), and I've bound TCP/IP to the desktop's NIC.

Of course, I haven't a clue what I should be doing next, except that I am exceedingly wary about running the cable company's Big Disk O' Goodies, most of which are probably superfluous. Still, it's a start towards getting weaned from the dialup.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 PM)
3 December 2003
Birds of a feather

Dante didn't assign a Circle for spammers and virus writers, though it's probably not hard to figure out where in the Inferno they should go, through the miracle of data interpolation: they'd slot above child molesters (as almost everyone would), but below, say, Tom DeLay.

The important thing, though, is that they stay together, especially now that there's evidence that they're working together. W32/Mimail-L is a new worm which, when installed, triggers a Denial of Service attack on the servers of antispam groups (and on Disney's Go.com, which surely means something).

The worm is packaged with an email ostensibly from a woman named Wendy who claims to be offering photos of an erotic encounter. Like I'd actually be interested in that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:36 PM)
It's full of bytes!

The cable connection seems to be delivering tonight, though there was one odd glitch which both saturated the cable modem (I'm guessing) and sidelined the secondary IDE controller (thereby killing both CD-ROM and CD-RW). Fixed by cycling the BRS.

Thanks to everyone who wrote with advice. As usual, you were all correct. :)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 PM)
9 December 2003
Diebold with a vengeance

A number of people are distrustful of Diebold because (1) they make voting machines and (2) their management is staunchly Republican.

My gripe with them, on the other hand, is that they're building Windows XP-based automatic teller machines, that a small fraction of them were actually infected with the Nachi/Welchia worm this summer, and that they're only just now admitting to it.

Could Diebold's voting machines be similarly infected? Probably not; they run Windows CE, which lacks some of the obvious holes in other versions of Windows, and they're usually not operated on a network.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:35 PM)
12 December 2003
Cross purposes

Microsoft's Bookshelf Symbol 7 font, included with Office 2003, includes a couple of swastikas. The company is offering a utility to purge the font set, which, says microsoft.com, contains "unacceptable characters."

The Third Reich, you'll remember, used only one swastika variation: clockwise, rotated 45 degrees. Apparently today any swastika is now considered a Nazi artifact, even if it's religious in origin; if you use the hated symbol, it has to be because it's always been your dream to annex Austria and invade Poland. Similarly, possession of a Confederate flag implies possession of enough rope to perform a couple of lynchings, and the twelve-story illuminated cross on the Bank One Tower in downtown Oklahoma City, something we see every December, means that the bank doesn't want business from non-Christians.

All this reminds me of a dust-up from about a decade ago, when someone with too much time on his hands discovered that if you type NYC in Microsoft's Wingding font — something you'd really have no reason to do, generally — you get a skull and crossbones, a Star of David, and a thumbs-up graphic. Interpreted, of course, as an anti-Semitic statement. Penn Jillette, bless him, said at the time that it could just as easily mean "Jewish people make really good pesticides."

There is defensive, and there is demented. Used to be, there was a recognizable difference between the two.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)
13 December 2003
No hard drive jokes

The upheaval that comes with a move — on the severity scale, I rate one move as roughly equivalent to 0.6 fire — inevitably means that some books at the bottom of the stack will be rotated upwards, which is how I found a 1992 Que manual called Real Men Use DOS, written by the presumed Real Man Mike Miller and the apparently Highly Unimpressed Shelley O'Hara.

Of course, the Home Improvement-like approach of this book is a bit on the silly side, which is probably why I bought it in the first place. Then again, sometimes it cuts deep. Chapter 17, written by Shelley, opens with the following assertion:

By now you should have figured out that DOS is like most men — unattractive and noncommunicative.

Hmmm. Do I have trouble communicating?

And just incidentally, eleven years after this book was written, the most avid DOS user I know is a woman; she fears no hardware known to man and sneers at dumbed-down documentation.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:29 PM)
22 December 2003
Don't they know it's the end of the world?

Call it Y2k04.

PTC, manufacturer of product lifecycle management software for business, has run into a lifecycle issue of its own. Their products' internal clock for computing dates maxes out at two billion seconds since 1970, a date chosen to match the introduction of Unix, and a date common in Unix-based applications.

The two-billionth second, however, will arrive on 10 January 2004, at which time PTC's products will grind to a halt. Software updates are in the pipeline, and no serious downtime is likely to result, but anyone who was thinking that Y2k-like problems were gone for the next thousand years or so should probably think again.

(Via CNet News.com)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
28 January 2004
A three-finger salute

David Bradley, the IBM tech who devised the Ctrl-Alt-Delete key combination for freeing up a frozen PC, is retiring after twenty-eight years with Big Blue.

He is modest about his accomplishment: "I may have invented it, but Bill [Gates] made it famous."

[Pause while Macintosh owners snicker.]

(Muchas gracias: Eugene Volokh.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:53 PM)
12 February 2004
Memo to an unnamed school

If your filtering software is obtuse enough to think my site is pornographic, it's prima facie evidence that two roads diverged in the wood, and you took the path of least resistance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 PM)
13 February 2004
Get it now before it works

Literally for months, Windows Media Player's auto-update feature has been nagging me to upgrade to version 9, and finally I bit the bullet yesterday and downloaded the 13-megabyte package.

This morning, of course, there was a new "security update."

Let it be said that all software beyond the level of Hello, world! has bugs and/or "random features" and/or "undocumented functionality." Still, any Microsoft package rivals the Albert Hall for holes.