How surprising; another conspiracy theory regarding Microsoft. Cringley is completely ripping off “The Register“, without giving them credit, and mashing a whole bunch of things together to the point where he is confusing himself. The Reg has been reporting on Microsoft’s DRM strategy for a few years now, and in many cases with far more substance than Cringley.

The main problem with Cringley (and some of The Reg reporting) is that there area bunch of separate topics that are easy to get mixed up. One is the issue of publisher rights. Another is the issue of privacy and personal control over data. Last is network security.

  • Publisher Rights– This is what most people think of when talking about Digital Rights Management. DRM is for content publishers who want to enforce terms of use on their content. If you publish content, and the terms of use say, “you are allowed to make copies for five other people, but they are not allowed to make copies,” then DRM is what you could use to make sure that people had to adhere to your terms of use. DRM is something that Microsoft has always supported, I believe for a number of good reasons:
    • It is the publisher’s right to set licensing terms on the purchase. If the buyer doesn’t agree to the terms, he doesn’t have to buy the content license. This is the essence of ethical capitalism — all exchanges are voluntary. Just as it would be coercive (and therefore unethical)to demand that a buyer pay money for a product that he didn’t want, it would be coercive to demand that a seller give away more than she wants to give awayin exchange for the purchase price. Protecting the rights of the publisher goes hand in hand with protecting the rights of the consumer,neither exists without the other.
    • Certain demagogues argue that IP protections are not ethical, and that a publisher should not have a right to restrict how her content is used. But even Cringley should know that Microsoft was always willing to debunk those charlatans. There is absolutely nothing new about Microsoft’s moral position regarding IP.
    • Innovation is better than litigation. A publisher can enforce their terms of use by litigating, but it’s preferable to settle things in a less coercive manner. Without DRM, many people think that their software license says, “Please do not copy this. If you do, you probably won’t get in trouble, but you might get in big trouble.” Without DRM, this is the only license that a software vendor has the option of offering. With DRM, you can imagine people interpreting their software license to read, “Don’t bother trying to copy this, because it won’t work. If you don’t like this license, purchase your software from someone who doesn’t use DRM”. Personally, I think that the latter is not very compelling for most software companies, and consumers often show that they are willing to reject copy-protected stuff in favor of things with a more loosely-enforced license. But regardless of how smart a business decision it would be, I think that publishers should have the choice to make that business decision.
    • Lack of good, ubiquitous DRM is the only thing holding us back from some really cool advances. More than two years ago, Microsoft started making some big bets on e-books. Eliminating paper from the traditional publishing process has massive social and economic implications. It would be better for consumers, authors, publishers, and (of course) Microsoft. Two years ago, we were already at the sweet spot on the curve of Moore’s Law, and there is certainly nothing technical preventing us from having ubiquitous e-books. The main thing standing in the way right now is lack of contentdue to publisher (and author) mistrust. Publishers won’t publish their stuff if it’s going to get ripped off, period. E-books have stalled for two years over this issue. It’s about time to solve it.
  • Individual Privacy Rights– Privacy is like DRM for the individual. When you grant someone a license to use a particular piece of personal information, you want to be sure that the information is not being copied or used in ways that you had not authorized. I claimed above that progress is being stalled because publishers cannot trust that their information will be used according to their terms of agreement (and litigation doesn’t scale). Progress is also being stalled because consumers cannot trust that their private information will be used only in ways that are authorized by the consumer. Just like the book publisher says “I’m not going to give you my book if I think you are going to rip it off”, the consumer says “I’m not going to give you my address if I think you are going to sell it”. At no point do these ideas come into conflict — they are natural extensions of one another. And if not for purely moral reasons, both are going to be heavily funded simply because we need to solve them to enable new computing scenarios (“markets”).
  • Network Security – General network security is a much broader issue, and in practice involves a whole lot of things besides copy protection and privacy rights. Privacy and DRM solutions often involve multiple different pieces of network security technology, but that does not mean that these technologies are exclusive to these scenarios. In other words, there are a whole lot of reasons why people are interested in single signon and crypto certificates, and DRM/privacy are not necessarily the biggest reasons.

One of the fallacies that so many articles seem trapped in is the idea that (enforcingpublisher rights== encroaching purchaser rights). I think people buy this argument because they have a naive notion that publishers are always BigCos and purchasers are normal people at home. And current populist wisdom says that BigCos screw over the little guy as a matter of cosmic law. Additionally, I think that GPL advocates buy this argument because they are conditioned to believe that anything less that pure collectivism is an affront to the purchaser’s rights. The simple way to address this fallacy is to point out that privacy reverses the roles. The consumer is “publisher” and the BigCo is “purchaser”. When I demand that Ameritech stop selling my address to bulk mailers, was that encroaching on their rights? Of course not! Would the GPL freaks argue that personal information should be released only under a “free as in freedom” license? “Sure Mr. telemarketer, you can have my address, but only if you agree to give it out for free to anyone who asks”.

The sloppiest articles go even farther, and extrapolate practically anything Microsoft is doing with security as being about publisher rights. If you have a vivid enough imagination, anything can be used as a secret weapon in Microsoft’s crusade to enslave you to Hollywood. One wonders why people like Cringley stop where they do. Do they really not know that Microsoft’s office supplies budget is also used to buy staplers and inkpens that could be used as weapons by federal marshals enforcing copyright laws? “The poor souls think that Passport is the only thing we’ve got up our sleeves; they’ll never know what hit them <... fades out to maniacal laughter ...>.

But the strangest part is that people didn’t learn from all of the completely pointless furor overHailstorm. Hailstorm, like Palladium, was like a stem cell. More embryonic than an embryo — material that could be turned into any organ you want. Palladium seems to have spawned one thousand theories, all of the garden variety conspiracy strain. Nobody knows what the heck Palladium is, so they speculate. An epidemic of polemic, and nobody is quite sure what it’s about. “We don’t know what Microsoft is planning, and we don’t know whether they can pull it off, and we don’t know for sure if it is a conspiracy. But at least we know that it is called Palladium, and it is probably bad for the fish.”

Irrepressible Invention

A few weeks ago, I commented on the way that homeless people could become a good source of information about wireless hotspots.Not long after that post,some wi-fi afficionadossat for a meal, and Matt Jones was struck with the idea of warchalking. It’s a clever term, since randomly searching for listening modem ports by dialing around was called “wardialing”. But warchalking combines this random search for hotspots with the homeless person’s concept of hobo signs. A good description, from says that warchalking “uses hobo-rune inspired symbols to signify a nearby node. Chalk them on a nearby wall, pavement, or slow moving pedestrian, and passers-by in the know can connect at will.”

This raises some interesting bootstrap scenarios. One of the cool things that wireless technologies enable are location-based services. For example, when I am in Florida and use WAP on my GPRS phone to look forswimwear shops, it knows to list shops in the general area. I could see myself wanting to find the nearest hotspot so that I could get location information and reviews of the five nearest Pho places. But locating wireless hotspots is, itself, a location-based service. Once you are online,you can just use your connection to look up more hotspots online, and follow them like a trail of bread crumbs. So it is really only the first warchalk that you need. Maybe you could go to Starbucks, and pay for the service just long enough to get your Cappucino, and by then have found the location of the nearest free site. Maybe Starbucks should start charging an extra service charge for hooking people up to the hotspot map sites, kind of like how the phone company charges for directory assistance. One can imagine municipalities providing free “beacons” that provide a wide-area hotspot for bootstrap purposes which is capable of nothing more than looking up other hotspots.

It is not hard to imagine someone setting up a WAP or GPRS/GSM accessible service with automatic location-based lookup of the nearest hotspot, so that travellers could quickly use their cell phone to find the nearest free connection. But then, it’s not clear if anyone would go through all of that trouble if they already had a GPRS/GSM device they could connect their laptop/tablet through. Sometimes “free” isn’t worth the cost. On the other hand, if you could count on reliable wireless bootstrap, you could discontinue yourcellphone servicecompletelyand use voice over IP.

Another fun thing to think about is hotspot spam. It is a trivial matter, on any wireless gateway, to make sure that the user sees the page thatyou want them to see, the first time (or every time) they try to access any page at all on the web. If they haven’t already, I can guarantee that some hotspot operators will do this to “brand” their hotspots. The first time you use the hotspot of some ‘leet haxor, you’ll be assulted with a Flash animation about how cool he is, and then you’ll be able to use his hotspot to connect.

It is just a short step from that to advertisement. Someone will start a company selling advertisement, and will lease space in local buildings to provide “free” hotspots. You’ll have to sit through an advertisement, and then you’ll get free access. You’ll have to watch an advertisement every five minutes to stay connected.

Or, how about “ad jammers”? It could be quite inexpensive to mass-manufacture small, battery-operated wireless beacons that pretend to be a wireless hotspot, but are capable of nothing other than serving a megabyte or two worth of advertisments to anyone unlucky enough to connect. I think maximum $10 per pop for these devices, and you could hire vagrants to dump them in trash cans all around the city. You could find out about available porn services andget-rich quick schemesfrom anywhere!


It looks like Sun is on-board with WS-Security now, which just went to Oasis. IBM has an implementation. Simon Fell comments on why WS-Security is better (but slower)than SSL. Security is great FUD material for the “rough” competitors, so it is great to see that Sun is willing to pass up the opportunity to frustrate Microsoft, and is acknowledging the merits of the specification. Now we just need to get implementations out there, until people expect WS-Security to “just be there” the same was they do SSL.

Changing topics, MSNBC is running a story todaytitled “HIV/AIDS: ‘ChinaÂ’s Titanic perilÂ’“. The actual “news” in this article is that the U.N. released a report on the AIDS trends in China. The U.N. report was deliberately alarmist. In the words of Kerstin Leitner, the U.N. resident representative in Beijing, “there was a clear message in the reference to the Titanic in the title of the report.” “If the people on the bridge of that ship had acted according to the information they had, then it could have been avoided.” The “journalists” at MSNBC, eager to please Miss Leitner, pick pieces of the report out of context and dutifully turn out a piece of propaganda that is considerably more alarmist than even the original U.N. report.

The facts are simple, though. If you take the number that the report was able to verify,0.003%(that is three one-thousandths of one percent) of the Chinese population have AIDS. Compare that with the United States, where 0.3% of the population are living with AIDS. In the enlightened United States, where we are qualified to give the rest of the world advice on AIDS, people are 100 times more likely to get AIDS than in China! Even if you accept the report’s upper bound estimate, China has 0.1% infection rate, still 300% better than the United States. The report goes on to say that the number could go “as high as” 10 million by 2010(which would be 0.8%) It is a very scientific-sounding number, but one wonders how they were able to arrive at an upper bound like that. What will happen in 2010 to make the number stop at 10 million? Why not 1.2 billion? Anyway, since this is their upper limit, that means that they assume it will be lower. And considering that China has been able to benefit from watching the successes (and failures) of other nations in the world battling AIDS, including the U.S. and even China’s neighbors Thailand and Burma, we can assume that they have learned a thing or two about how to control AIDS. And considering that China has some of the lowest drug abuse rates in the world, and a law enforcement system that makes it fairly easy to force whatever safe practices the government decides are appropriate, it is really hard to imagine AIDS in China ever being as prevalent as in the U.S.

Miss Leitner can be forgiven for trying”with good intentions”to release a provocative report to prompt change. That is, after all, the purpose of the U.N. report. But what excuse does MSNBC have? Since when has it been the job of journalists to skew facts and try to prompt social change, even if they have “good intentions”?

Death of Confidence

CNN is running two apocalyptic articles about the current Worldcom situation; “The Death of Confidence” and “The Last Straw“. When scandal after scandal hits the papers, and we realize that most of the earnings statements we looked at over the past five years were pure fabrications, we start looking for stable ground. Enron, Tyco, Rite-Aid, Martha Stewart, Qwest, Adelphia, Worldcom, and the list goes on. Now that the market has had a correction from the days of the irrational bubble, it is about time for the corporate governance and reporting laws to have a correction. If anything good comes out of all of these scandals, it will be that they triggered a correction that leaves our market system stronger.

On the other hand, there is another correction which is long overdue, and which should be triggered by these scandals. Unfortunately, I am afraid that the necessary correction is being overlooked by the press, since it involves their own ranks. Why is nobody asking the question, “why didn’t the press tell us about all of this fraud five years ago?” The answer is that investigative journalism is a dead art, and all that the press have left are talking heads who talk about whatever their audience is buzzing about. If you ask them why they never reported on this fraud earlier, they’ll say “because nobody told us about it until now”. In other words, until everyone knows about it, the reporters aren’t going to know about it. Today’s press corps certainly still see themselves in the same moralistic light that journalists of previous generations did — as defenders of liberty. But many journalists today seem to think that they defend liberty by “explaining the news” to an ignorant audience, rather than by “uncovering the facts”.

In my opinion, the pathetic performance of the press after 9/11 (reporters saying that Afghanistan was in the Middle East, for example) should have been a wakeup call. But in the very few cases where criticism of the press arose after 9/11, members of the press defended themselves by saying “we were directing more resources toward domestic and economic issues during the bubble, since that is what people were interested in, so we neglected international matters.” But now with Worldcom and Enron, we see that they weren’t doing any real journalism.

So, do you think that the press are doing soul-searching now? Far from it!Dan Gillmore (Dan is a reporter for San Jose Mercury News) is excoriating “the system” like there’s no tomorrow.Dan writes,“George W. Bush said today he was shocked, shocked to hear of WorldCom’s fraud. Nice to hear this sentiment — but come on. Bush is part of the system that has created this mess.” This passage is perfect illustration of the hypocrisy and arrogance that have infected the press. Dan is implying that the President knew about the fraud, and if he didn’t know about the fraud, he must be an idiot, because even Dan Gillmore could see the whole “system that created this mess”. Dan goes on to explain “the system” to the rest of us ignorant cows, and throws in a lot of political suggestions about what we should do now that we have received enlightenment. (Time to go home, journalistic duty accomplished) But you have to wonder, if it was so obvious, why didn’t he write about before? If he knew that these companies were lying to us, why didn’t he dig deeper and get the proof for the whole world to see? If the employees of Worldcom have to be the ones to publicize the wrongdoing, and all that CNN (and all of the other reporters) can do is add stupid political commentary, what the hell do we have journalists for? I can add my own stupid political commentary (that’s why I have a blog), but I have a day job that doesn’t involve journalism. Ineed someone else to dig up facts and report the news. Democracy needs someone to dig up facts and report the news.It was nice to believe that there were trustworthy people called journalists who had day jobs in fact-finding and reporting the news. Unfortunately, that belief seems to have been even more naive than believing corporate earnings reports. If we can’t have confidence in the journalists to give us good information, we’re in really bad shape. In my opinion, journalism gets a big, fat, F for failure to perform their duties with regards to corporate governance. Journalism already got an E for failure to cover international affairs before and immediately after 9/11. There is a problem. Now, let’s see if the press admits it and gets started on a correction.

Programming Soviet

Cool! Dane Carlson maintains an RSS feed of Eric Raymond’s blog.

Arnold Kling at Tech Central Station apparently reads Eric’s blog, since he responded to one of the posts with an article titled “The Programming Soviet“. It’s surprising to see a tech journalist writing something so common-sense. Less surprising are the comments by the religious zealots who were offended. I suspect that Eric is far less offended than these people, considering that one of Raymond’s primary contributions to OSS was to temper some of the religious zealotry coming out of RMS camp.I’m not sayingthat Raymond isn’t partisan (he is), and I’m not saying that he hasn’t contributed to polarization in the industry (he has). But he doesn’t get defensive when you disagree with him; something that the trolls responding to Kling would do well to emulate.

Anyway, the “The Programming Soviet” talks about one issue that I feel deserves some additional perspective — the issue of “version fatigue”. It is not uncommon to hear an OSS advocate harping on about the “forced treadmill of upgrades”. But this makes absolutely no sense to me. I remember using WizardWord on DOS nearly 15 years ago. It worked great for writing papers, and I could fit the entire word processor, spell checker, and a few papers on a single 360k floppy disk.

The word processor works today just as well as it did 15 years ago. I don’t use it anymore, but I could if I wanted to. I would have to run it from a 3.5″ floppy, since I don’t have any 360k drives around anymore, but I don’t blame that on anyone. I got rid of my 360k drives because they took up too much space, not because the hardware vendors trapped me in a conspiracy to force me to upgrade. I use Microsoft Word today because I prefer its functionality, not because someone coerced me to stop using WizardWord. If I ever decide that the software I am using is too bloated or too expensive (and it’s unlikely I would complain about the price, since I’ve already paid for it), I can always switch back to WizardWord. Software functionality doesn’t deteriorate with time; the choice will probably be available to me for the rest of my natural life.

So when someone complains that they are being forced to upgrade, I wonder what they are talking about. There are only a few things I can think of that would make someone say that:

  • They think that thesoftware is going to wear out andquit working, so they need to replace it. What a crazy idea!
  • They bought a new machine and operating system, and they are worried that their oldsoftware will no longer be compatible with the new hardware and OS. Microsoft and Intel together have an untouchable record of success at making new hardware and software capable of running old software. But it is of course possible that backwards-compatibility bugs occur.Butthere is a huge difference between saying “I cannot use these old programs on this new machine” and “I cannot use these old programs at all“.
  • Maybe they are afraid that their operating system will wear out and need replacing, so they will not even be able to continue running their old program on the old operating system. Again, since software functionality does not deteriorate with time, the only way that this could happen is if the software vendor deliberately added an “expiration date” to the operating system. That is a pretty strange idea.
  • Maybe they are afraid that the rest of the world will move on, and will no longer be able to read their files. But every word processor I know can still read text, and there are plenty of import/export filters that exist. If inventing a new file format is the same as “forcing” someone to upgrade, I guess the W3C are the biggest bandits of all. But even if you passed a law, I doubt you could get anyone to implement software that would be automatically compatible with any new file format that was ever invented in the future. And it would be even crazier to try to pass a law that says people are not allowed to invent new file formats. Might as well legislate that people grow wings.
  • Maybe they are worried that their competitors will get newer software and have a competitive edge. Maybe they are worried that their neighbors will have “cooler” software than them.

Today I picked upthe upgraded Sony(RM-VL 1000) remote control. I had to do a lot of work to get the thing programmed, and it still has some kinks that I’ll have to work out over time. And I had to do all of that work by pushing stupid little buttons on the stick, rather than by liesurely browsing the Internet. I have to learn the features of a new remote control at least once per year, and I’ll probably be on the treadmill again by Christmas, when I pick up the next big “home entertainment”thing from Microsoft. Even with a universal remote, I’m going to have to reprogram for whichever new devices I get.

But I’m not silly enough to blame the version fatigue on someone other than myself. I know the solution that is guaranteed to end my version fatigue — just stop buying new things! Not only would it end the version fatigue, it would save me some money! And for people who want to spend more money to combat their fatigue, thereare always the functionals.


Eric Raymond now has a blog. His site seems to have the proper tags on the home page to allow it to be used with any rssify script, but I haven’t yet found one that allows me to subscribe to his site in my news aggregator. Today Eric is talking about Islam. Compatibility Test
Your match with Eric S. Raymond you are 96% similar you are 95% complementary

How Compatible are You with me?

When I first started reading today’s post, it looked like he was going to be spewing the same old “Islam is a violent religion and the Quran proves it” arguments. But he acknowledges further down that the same can be said of Christianity, which is nice to see. In fact, the Holy Bible (especially the parts that are shared between Judaism and Christianity) has far more passages inciting believers to violence and treachery against non-believers than does the Quran. It is true that modern Muslims focus on the “bad” parts of their holy scriptures in greater numbers than do modern Christians, but it is ridiculous to blame this on the Quran. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are all originated in Abraham, and therefore carry much of the scripture in common — one criticizing the other’s scripturesis like throwing stones in glass houses.

On the other hand, poor economic and social conditions lead people to be more suceptible to extremism, and this is true for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. In all three religions, you will find the most fertile soil for extremism in the poorest of the people (although the people exploiting these conditions are rarely poor). The ultra-orthodox in Israel have garnered massive political clout by providing welfare and religious-oriented housing for the poor among the population, they fill the settlements largely with people who cannot afford to live in the cities, and so on. And in the case of Islam, there is no question that Islam is strongest among the poorest of earth’s people. Poverty and ignorance are the genesis of extremism — religion is simply one of the tools that are used to exploit (and often exacerbate) these conditions.

With this out of the way, Eric proceeds to explain what he sees as the real problem: coerced religion of any creed. In this, the bulk of his post seems like it could have been written by Dinesh D’Souza. Americans (and especially libertarians like Eric) value liberty almost religiously. Religious extremists of the house of Abraham value obedience to God’s will above all else, and tend to regard liberty as something that is cancerous to righteous virtue. From these two conflicting viewpoints, it is difficult to see any hope of reconciliation. However, D’Souza suggests that the two perspectives can find some common ground by stressing the fact that virtue cannot exist without free will– if virtue is coerced, there is no evidence that the person truly had a virtuous heart. In other words, society ought to protect individual liberties, so that people are able to choose the path of virtue.

I personally am sympathetic to the Raymond/D’Souza argument. However, an honest reading of Abrahamite scriptures will betray this argument to be Luciferian. The supremacy of “free will”in salvationis not something that is supported by the Talmud, Bible, or Quran, although most today assume that it is fundamental. Aquinas suggested that individual choice wasnot conducive to salvation, because if the choice were left up to the person, the person would always fail to demonstrate virtue. Surrounded, as we are, by The Cult of Liberty, it is not hard to see how such fundamental concepts have been interpreted and twisted into what modern westerners believe today. But a quick reading of Romans 9:10-21 spells things out pretty clearly. If God decides before you are born that your “free will” will lead you to reject salvation, that is exactly what will happen. You don’t have any say in the matter, and don’t bother complaing that it’s “unfair” — God doesn’t care. In fact, trying to exercise your own free will is the most consistent way to get yourself on God’s bad side. The Abrahamite scriptures drive this point home repeatedly, from the stories of Eden, Tower of Babel, Lucifer’s fall, and so on.

The religions of Abraham were fundamentally based in the knowledge that people will strive toward liberty, and theirexercise of liberty will ultimately be their destruction. Today, some of the greatest threats to humanity involvenuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. When you consider thatthese things were innovated bypeople killing each other over economic selfishness (who all happened to have the same religion), it is harder to take seriously the idea that religious extremism is the most significant threat to human survival.Some might even argue that humanity would be a lot further from the brink of extinction if we had just listened when the Pope said the earth was flat and had resisted our arrogant impulses to create flying machines and visit the heavens “like God”. The astute readers who have followed the above link to Romans willnotice thatthis a moot point, though. The people who ignored the Pope were predestined to do so (and to be punished for it).

As Jacob Shwirtz points out in his review of Minority Report, this seeming paradox of free will versus absolute determinism is revealed in places besides religion. In Minority Report, the paradox was illuminated by considering premonitions (a good catch that I completely missed). If someone has a premonition that comes true, does it mean that the world behaved deterministically, or that the person having the premonition exerted control over the environment to make a self-fulfilling prophecy? Both positions are equally defensible. In fact, there are many other possible ways to explain premonitions on the basis of determinism or free will. Premonitions are a great thought experiment for considering the paradox. Another good way to explore the two opposing perspectives is to consider the cause-and-effect chain backward to the beginning of time. Everything is caused at some point by something else. So that would imply that there was a thing that doesn’t have a cause. Aquinas called this the “prime mover” and offered it as proof of God’s existence. But, like the premonition thought-experiment, there are other possible answers that are equally defensible.

In the end, anyone who claims that either determinism or free will is the only logically defensible perspective, is lying. Both are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are equally defensible logically. Believing one or the other (or both, or neither)is a matter of faith, and the logic is merely rationalization. I believe that the incongruence between D’Souza (America) and Romans 9:10 (Islamist Ummah) comes from this same source. Fundamentally, the Cult of Liberty andthe Islamist Ummahare disagreeing about the very basis of free will.

Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe, theChairman of the Democratic National Committee, was on Microsoft’s campus today talking to employees. Quite a few employees in attendence were devoted Democrats, but there were enough other viewpoints represented to make things interesting. Terry seemed most uncomfortable when answering questions about antitrust policy, which is only natural considering the history. And he fumbled early attempting to connect with the audience when he said thatGeorge Bush had “spent the surplus on tax cuts for the richest 1%”. Most people in the audience are giving more than half of their incomes to the IRS each year, and are probably sick of hearing that the $600 (not even enough to pay the tax accountant)they got back last year is somehow “robbing” the rest of the population. The class-envy and race-baiting that may work well with other constituencies is not very effective with Microsoft Democrats.

But despite these minor nits, I think he did really well. He made some interesting comments with regards to antitrust litigation. Someonesuggested that laws were being written through the judicial system rather than the legislature, and he agreed; but he pointed out that legislation, like litigation, can be a double-edged sword. In the case of litigation, recent news about Sun and Oracle demonstrate this point.

He also made some other comments with regards to campaign finance reform which are relevant to my recent complaints about GPL. Asked about the efficacy of campaign finance reform in the face of loopholes, and he replied (emphasis mine), “The section 501c exemptions really worry me. When we are given a huge donation by an individual donor, we get ripped on by the newspapers and Republicans, but that’s OK. At least the contribution was out in the open where people could see it. The 501c and 527 have almost no disclosure requirements, and the hard money and soft money limits mean that more money will now be going to these other places where you can’t tell who it’s coming from. And that’s not good for Democracy.

One cranky coder has taken exception to this particular argument in my “No Love for GPL” post, replying, “insuring that something you give as a gift to the community remains collective property is not organized crime.” Pleasantly, this statement shows an understanding of GPL that is lacking in many OSS advocates. GPL philosophy is that intellectual property should be collective property. I don’t believe that collectivism is criminal, or even wrong in all cases. But I think that collectivism is best used sparingly. Collectivism (the rejection of individual property rights)is the antithesis of freedom. When RMS champions a collectivist platform and cynically says itembodies “free as in freedom”, it’s not exactly the end of the world. Naive, pathetically retro, and cynical are adjectives that come to mind.

But I am concerned that so many otherwise bright developers fail to see the obvious incongruencies in GPL philosophy. Computer people are smart; we are supposed to be able to figure things out. So why is it that nobody is throwing a compiler error on a guy who says (collectivism == freedom)? Not only do they fail to see the typo in that statement, they even cut-and-paste the equation into every ZDNet forum they can find. The other major bug in GPL philosophy relates to my comments about transparency. GPL advocates often assert that ((IP == secretive) && (GPL == transparent)). This equation is only true in a very narrow scope that is mostly irrelevant (source code)to most developers, and is exactly opposite in most places where it matters. This flawed equation is basically the same as saying that ((capitalism == secretive) && (collectivism == transparent)). Asserting such is like saying that down is up and up is down – capitalism has produced some secretive and shady folks, but collectivism brought us Pol Pot and Josef Stalin. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that GPL is “a threat to mankind”. I am simply pointing out that it should be self-evident that ((capitalism == transparent) && (collectivism == secretive)). When someonesuggests that collectivism (GPL) is the way to encourge more transparency, while insinuating that capitalism (IP law) encourages secrecy, my mind suffers severe cognitive dissonance. I believe that most people are pretty intelligent, and have honorable intentions. So it is really difficult for me to understand how someone could truly believe that GPL promotes transparency. Initially, I rationalized the GPL as being a typical cute prank pulled by a clever social engineer (in the spirit of Church of Subgenius). But the fact that nobody has called the bluff for so many years leads me to believe that a whole lot of people are just plain duped, and have some very fundamental defects in their understanding of democracy and freedom. I am sure that GPL is not the cause of this deficiency, but rather a symptom. Our schools don’t teach civics or logic anymore. And that isn’t good for democracy.


Today Dave reveals that he faces serious health risks unless he quits smoking. It is often said that nicotine is more addictive than heroin. In the strictest sense, of physical dependence, this is an exaggeration. But the psychological dependencies make the difference. Any addict who does any drug repeatedly will learn to crave when presented with the paraphenalia unique to that drug, in the same way that Pavlov’s dogs learned to salivate when they heard the sound of a bell. The triggers that have been conditioned into the average recovering heroin addicts brain can be very unpredictable. The style of door on the flop house he used to inhabit, the smell of oxidizing iron mixed with oil after a rain, and so on. Heroin produces such a powerful high that Pavlov doesn’t need to ring his bell too many times to condition the response.

But what the average cigarette lacks in dopaminergic power, smokers make up for with sheer repetition. Someone who follows stimulus with response 400 times a day for 20 years is going to be pretty darn conditioned to respond when the right cues are presented. And in the smoker’s case, the cues are less likely to be in abandoned ghetto housesor involve such things as needles and surgical hose. Smokers cues are simple, everyday things like chewing, lifting a hand to the mouth. Recovering smokers simply cannot avoid cues that trigger their conditioned reponse. Forcing oneself to ignore these cues is a source of terrible frustration.

The real irony with nicotine is that the high it provides is so poor compared to the other dopaminergic drugs. Even heroin and cocaine addicts will tell you that the only reason they keep doing the drug is because it hurts too bad to stop. But in the case of nicotine addicts, this is the only thing that could be true, since nobody gets hooked on smoking cigarettes by the sheer pleasure of the activity (there is none). Mark Pilgrim relates this best in his essay on addiction.

That is a puzzle worth examining. If cigarettes are just about the most addictive drug imaginable (besides maybe crack cocaine and meth), andifcigarettes have no real positive impact on an individual (and well-documented negative effects), why does the government choose to make cigarettes legal and other drugs illegal? Of course, the negative effects of heroin and some other drugs are far worse than the negative effects of cigarette smoking, but it is easy to find examples of drugs with a much better societal cost/benefit ratio that are nevertheless illegal. True, the state governments have villified and litigated against the evil tobacco companies for many years, and one would get the impression that these valiant attorneys general would love to make cigarettes illegal if only they could. So, what exactly is stopping states from making cigarettes illegal? What is it that holds these valiant attorneys general powerless? A quick look at the balance sheet solves the puzzle for us. The states make more profit from each pack of cigarettes than the tobacco companies do. If the only issue were protection of the citizens, we can see that the states would have outlawed cigarettes long ago. But in fact, when the states raise taxes on cigarettes in the name of “encouraging more people to quit smoking”, they are carefully avoiding the very thing that could make everyone quit smoking. Making cigarettes illegal would take a huge cut out of tax revenues, and skimming regressive tax money from addicts fiending for a fix is easy money.

And that is the essence of addiction. Riding a tiger can be very unpleasant if the tiger gets control. All people start out by using drugs, but there are a thousand ways that the user can lose control and become used by the addiction. And being smart doesn’t help much. In fact, the drug’s best ally in wresting control from you is your own subconscious. And forget the silly examples of “rationalization” given in the textbooks. Smart people like Dave are capable of coming up with far better rationalizations that “it’s just one cigarette”. Mildly crafty people are the ones who give up smoking altogether, and spend the rest of their lives chewing 10 packs of nicotine gum per day with nicotine patches on all limbs. The craftier the subconscious, the better it will be at providing you with reasons to maintain the addiction. Really smart people can explain with bulletproof logic how it would be unethical to not take the drug. And maybe the craftiest of all are the ones who can explain how it is ethical to keep the drug legal and sell it to you at vast profits to themselves.

Precog Clarity

Watched Minority Report today. I had fun trying to detect traces of Scientology in the movie. I noticed that the drug Cruise bought was called “Clarity”, and this combined with”precogs”resembles“Clear” and “Preclear” that are so important to Scientology. The entire movie had Cruise acting like a clear, with the only real reactive mind episode coming from a restimulated engram. Of course, you can find reactive mind/engram episodes in any drama, but in this case the movie was so devoid of any other drama that it stands out.

The basic story (sans the engram) was written by the same guy who wrote Blade Runner. The science in Minority Report was integrated into the world in a way that was believable; with things like personalized billboards, spy spiders, and retina scans. This is a huge step forward from A.I., which ruined some perfectly good ideas by presenting them in a way that defied credibility (does Spielberg know the difference between love and obsession?) I’m glad Speilberg has learned to not try writing his own stories.

On the other hand, good special effects and a relatively consistent story line are not enough to make a classic in this genre. Blade Runner is still a classic because of the multiple layers of moral paradox it exposes. (For example,what is man’s response to the fact that he was created in the image of God, but deliberately made flawed by a built-in expiration date?) Like Blade Runner, Minority Report could have been a bonanza ofparadoxical layers of moral dilemma, all without detracting from the story. Instead, we get Tom Cruise struggling to control his emotions (“you can choose”) and choosing to not murder someone he is angry at. The only other moral paradox we see is at the climax, where Cruise maneuvers the bad guy into the position of having to choose between two bad things (he chooses the less bad thing). Not only is this a very weak paradox, but Spielberg insults the audience further by telling them it’s a paradox. Cruise stands there and tells the bad guy, “You see the paradox here, don’t you — if you do A then X, if you do B then Y”.

The first rule of moral dilemma is that moral dilemma adds spice to a movie, but is never the main course. Therefore, there is no need to put the moral dilemma on the menu or tell people that they are eating it. Lots of people enjoyed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” without noticing any painful moral dilemmas. And if a plot-segment has to jump out and grab the audience by the throat and scream “Look at me! I’m a moral dilemma!”, it is probably not much of one. The only reason I can imagine that Spielberg had Cruise do this is because he wanted the movie to be compared with complex movies like Blade Runner andThe Matrix. And apparently Spielberg thought it would be good enough to just tell the audience that they were experience a deep moral dilemma. It sure takes the hard work out of actually delivering a complex storyline — too bad it didn’t work.

Finally, there wereplaces in the movie that talk about “due process” and the issues with jailing someone for a crime that they didn’t yet commit. However, these do not come close to qualifying as moral paradox, in my opinion. The movie gives us our first glimpse of a precog-engineered arrest taking place right at the moment that the crime is taking place, which kind of biases the audience. And further, there are plenty of ways within our current legal system to put people away for intent without having actually committed the crime they intended.

But that is not to say the story was poor. The story itself was capable of some truly heinous moral twists. The only thing I’m complaining about is that Spielberg didn’t take any of those twists. Because of that, I would rate evenGattacca above Minority Report, and Blade Runner and The Matrix are better without question.

Foxpro Scramble

This is the kind of crazy stuff that happens here. Apparently, Hugh Winters has gone out on his own and hired a plane to fly over the Microsoft campus with a “Happy 10th Anniversary Foxpro” banner. I just got an e-mail saying that the plane is going to start buzzing campus in 30 minutes. I sure hope it doesn’t get shot down by the locally stationed fighter jets. And considering that not many people know in advance about it, I wonder how many employees lunching outside will be calling 911 on their cellphones about the “suspicious” aircraft.