April 30, 2005

Office essentials

Office essentials
Originally uploaded by jbzimmerman.
At times, certain necessities are required to get one through the day. The bottle is A.H. Hirsch 16 yr old Bourbon, last made in 1974 right before the distillery burned down. I discovered this bourbon thanks to Mr. Teichman, and the story tickled me; when I was growing up, my parents would drink Old Heaven Hill bourbon. I thought, at the time, it was rotgut; 'Old Heaven Hill' sounded like something right out of Mad Magazine. I didn't realize, however, that it was in fact Old Heaven Hill bourbon - and quite highly thought of. I realized, a few years ago, that I hadn't seen it around in quite some time, and after doing research, discovered that the distillery had - yep - burned down. In 1974. I think they were the same distillery; but the Hirsch apparently was made in larger quantities or at least there was some stash from which bottle continue to emerge slowly. I drink it with gusto, with the appreciation of an extinct libation.

The cigars are just Fonsecas (Vintage collection Lonsdale tubos). I have become more of a smoker as I try to coordinate my work efforts with cigarette-smoking hackers, who get an astonishing amount of brainwork done whilst downstairs puffing. Still, one cigar can make for a very relaxed half-hour; between cigars and fountain pens, the pace of the day can be drawn back to a more reasonable level.

Just kidding. The bourbon was in the office in between being purchased and heading to my home liquor cabinet. I'm not leaving that good stuff near the other monkeys, heck no. :-)

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April 29, 2005

Michael McGinnis was not, it turns out, trying to start something about GOD.

In response to my earlier defensive post, Mr. McGinnis wrote me a quite understanding and more-patient-than-he-could-have-been-expected-to-be email. As a result, I am pleased to say, we now seem to have come to a better understanding of what each other's position is; and as is only right, I wanted to announce this here so that none of the four point two people who read this screed left feeling that he had sniped, or sniped and then left...not at all the case.

Thanks, Mr. McG, for reading, and keeping me honest. I know it's a trying job.

Posted by jbz at 8:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sometimes I think we may just survive.

As long as things like this happen.

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April 28, 2005

One thing that makes me proud to be a Vermonter

...(even if I only am in a very limited way) is Bernie Sanders.

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Hate them because their software sucks, or...

Pick another reason.

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April 27, 2005

So they start Young, apparently.

The lying doesn't come in at a later time. The Chairman of the Colorado Young Republicans, when confronted by two Democrats who were ejected from a speech given by President Bush by a man posing as a Secret Service agent as to who the man was and what he was doing at the event, replied that he wouldn't talk to them without his attorney being present - but declined to provide his attorney's name. The Secret Service, for their part, states that they do in fact know who the individual was, and that they are investigating that person for impersonating a Secret Service agent, but won't release their identity - but did say that the person admitted that they targeted the Democrats because of their bumper sticker identifying them as Democrats.

So: Someone was at the event, and was standing with the Chairman of the YR, pretending to be a Secret Service agent. He was conferring with said chairman. Said chairman won't discuss the matter without an attorney. The upshot of the incident was the barring of two American citizens from attending a speech by their president based purely on their avowed political leanings, by someone pretending to be a law enforcement officer - which is a crime.

None of these people are guilty until and unless a court determines them so. The chairman's response is his legal right - and also means that he, too, understands and recognizes that he is up to his neck in a criminal-case level barrel of badness.

And these are the people our president feels most comfortable having shield him from the American public.

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Kung Fu Fighting

Heh. Well, Gong fu (titled here as Kung Fu Hustle) is, in fact, funny. Really, really funny. Not only that, but it managed to have a plotline more interesting than the one promised by the trailer, without being any less funny. Sight gags, cultural references from all over the map (from classic Chinese folk tales to The Shining, with the recent Spider-Man movie and Star Wars lines thrown in) and, of course, loads of Yuen Wo Ping choreography (read: ass-kicking) and special-fx based whoop-ass.

Loads of fun.

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Citibank vulnerable to attacks described by Hollywood 17 years ago

Cory Doctorow has had someone mess with him in a totally uncool manner. I must stand with him on this one regarding the fairly cavalier attitude large companies (and especially Citibank, whom I won't deal with anymore) have towards their customers' privacy, financial security and data safety. One quick addendum: this isn't anything new. For a textbook example of this tactic, one can see it done verbatim on film back in 1988. What's really annoying is that nothing's been done to deal with the attack method since then - if Hollywood knows how to do something, that's usually an indicator that it won't work in reality - but not here, apparently.

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Ooooooooohhhhh. Happiness and a warm gun.

I hate doing the fanboy, but I find I must.

I've waited for this. For a long time. With others like me out there.

Now I have seen a taste of what would have been ours this month, but was moved to September.

And it looks gooooooooooooood.

Heeheeeheeeheeheeheeheehee. All our BDH in the BDM, you fucking rock. Even Cap'n Tightpants, though I don't swing that way my own self. And yes, Jayne, let's be Bad Guys. Hoo-yah.

NOTE OF WARNING: There be spoilers in them thar trailers - not enough to tell me how the movie goes, but enough to tell me what it's about, and again, heeheeheeheeheeheehee.

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April 25, 2005

E*Trade and more reflexive information stupidity

So here I am, eager E*Trade customer. I have some funds (for once) in an account, and I'd like to do the sensible thing and open an IRA account of a type I do not presently own. E*Trade's website tells me happily that this process can be completed online "in minutes!" ...especially if the funds are available in an E*Trade account, which they are. Excellent. Start the process. I have no more than a reflexive twinge giving them my SSN, because a) they already have it for my brokerage account (handed to them by my employer, but that's another whole story) and b) because I'm asking them to initiate transactions with the government in my name. So, OK, that's sort of what this number is for.

All is well, and I'm five or six screenfuls of information in, when I get a screen which tells me "You may designate beneficiaries to receive your assets in the event of your death." Okay, that makes sense to me. This is about planning for the future, after all; I can have several beneficiaries, primary and contingent, yada, yada. Hm. Well, how about my young nephews - they're just the type to blow whatever meager amounts of lucre I might leave behind in a suitably irresponsible manner (hopefully on good Scotch and perhaps members of the fairer sex, or the same sex if they end up preferring that).

So I enter in my older nephew's info. He's around 3. After his name and address, it wants...his Social Security number. Hm. Well, he doesn't have one yet, I don't think; or at least, if he does, I don't have it.

But there's no way to tell it that. So I enter zeros.

Nope. BZZZT. Big fat error messages involving invalid SSNs.

Fine then; I'll take out the SSN entirely.


Now I'm a tad peeved, but that's still OK - I'll just open the account now and add them later, since I don't plan on kicking off this mortal coil in the next couple of days.

Nope. Despite telling me I may add beneficiaries here, apparently I must add them, or it won't let me open the fucking account.

So not only do I have to provide a beneficiary (which I'm a little annoyed about) but I have to provide someone else's Social Security Number in order to open my own fucking IRA.

What the fuck is up with that?

They confirm to me on the phone that no, there is no legal requirement for this information, and that I could fill out a paper application in which I did not offer a SSN for my beneficiary. I fail to see why I should be expected to have that information, given that it's information I'm not supposed to divulge to anyone else. Apparently, then, this is purely because the web application can't be bothered to handle the case where I might not want to disclose this information-I'm-not-really-supposed-to-have-about-other-people. What if I wanted to leave my assets to someone who wasn't my spouse or family member? Given that I don't have an immediate family of my own, this is not that unusual...and in my nephew's case, he may not even have one of the damn things yet.

E*Trade just lost some business.

Posted by jbz at 4:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Things that would get you or me fired...

...seem to have no effect on our President. Notably, having confirmed male prostitutes signing and out of their place of work using fake names at times which don't match their stated purpose of business.

If there's anyone to pity in this situation, it's the Secret Service, actually. These folks have to protect the principal, no matter what manner of heinously stupid crap said principal is up to; furthermore, they have to remain scrupulously neutral and avoid being a source of any information to anybody. This particular case the information is only available because it's a sign-in book that everyone has to hit, knows is there, and the people you're signing in are no stranger to FOIA requests.

Posted by jbz at 12:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bad reviews suck

...and they suck even more when not only do you yourself agree with many of their points (despite their somewhat dubious origins), but when some of their most telling front-line factual dings (see six paragraphs down) are ones that you and many others inside your company been shouting about for over eight months prior to release. Not only was the problem well-known by several but, more importantly (and something I hadn't known) apparently the documentation 'dealt with it' by simply claiming it couldn't be fixed. So rather than fixing it, or even offering the workarounds...sigh.

Some days...

Posted by jbz at 9:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bolton: He Said, They Said

From Newsweek/MSNBC:

But the London story is further evidence that Bolton and the White House have their work cut out for them. On several occasions, America's closest ally in the war on terror, Britain, was irked by what U.S. and British sources say were efforts by Bolton to undermine promising diplomatic openings. Perhaps the most dramatic instance took place early in the U.S.-British talks in 2003 to force Libya to surrender its nuclear program, NEWSWEEK has learned. The Libya deal succeeded only after British officials "at the highest level" persuaded the White House to keep Bolton off the negotiating team. A crucial issue, according to sources involved in the affair, was Muammar Kaddafi's demand that if Libya abandoned its WMD program, the U.S. in turn would drop its goal of regime change. But Bolton was unwilling to support this compromise. The White House agreed to keep Bolton "out of the loop," as one source puts it. A deal was struck only after Kaddafi was reassured that Bush would settle for "policy change"—surrendering his WMD. One Bush official called the accounts of both incidents "flatly untrue."

As Laura Rozen notes, Libya was supposed to be one of Bolton's successes. The Bush crew really doesn't seem to do all that thorough a job vetting people, does it? Or perhaps they just think it doesn't matter? In any case, while I find the additional time for investigation of Bolton encouraging, I find it disappointing that very few folks (and none in the Committee, it seems) want to touch the underlying issue. That issue, to me, is that despite continuing revelations about the man's past and behavior, and examples of his somewhat liberal attitude towards disclosure which he has apparently shown in the Committee room, the White House nominated him to represent this country and seems to want to stand firmly behind him.

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April 24, 2005

Michael McG seems to want to start something involving GOD.

Got a slightly snarky comment on this entry which really, to my eyes, wants to take me to task for my attitude about this GOD person but doesn't quite know how to go about it, and hence tries to make a link between my comments in that entry and the people who fought for civil rights in the U.S.

I have never claimed that God was unknown to the civil rights fighters. Quite the contrary. I know many of them to be and to have been people of deep faith in both their causes and in various religious ideas. Nor have I ever claimed that was a bad thing. In fact, this post had nothing whatsoever to do with civil rights fighters - and I have never claimed, throughout this debacle, to have an understanding of their point of view or their situation, because I wasn't alive then. The only point of view I claim to have any special understanding of is my Uncle's, because he and I had many long conversations about it. That's it.

In this particular post, my annoyance and derision over the citations of 'GOD' in the email from the person on the other end of the message chain involve the fact that our interaction has nothing whatsoever to do with God. It has to do with the entirely secular laws of the United States of America. Whatever rights that person feels 'GOD' gave them are irrelevant to me in this case, and therefore, explaining them to me not only doesn't move me but loses them massive amounts of credibility for attempting to convince me through completely specious argument.

Finally, to the best of my ability (and eBay's) to determine, the United States Code says they are wrong. This is the entirety of the matter under debate, given that my sending the VERO notice to eBay was based entirely on that point- that I was identifying the item they were attempting to sell as an illegal copy of Eyes on the Prize. Whatever my disagreements with Downhill Battle and the rest of the Copyfighter movement, I will state this unequivocally: none of them have ever claimed, or even hinted, that anyone else should have the right to transfer copies of these films for commercial gain. Period. We are all in complete agreement about that, as far as I can tell. What we do disagree about is the ability and 'rights' of my Uncle's estate to restrict the use and transfer of the films and contained content.

I do have some strong opinions about religion in specific cases. Some of them are strongly positive. Some of them are strongly negative. One thing I am firm on, however, is the following: anyone should be free to worship whatever they so choose - so long as their worship, belief and practices does not in any way impinge on my choice of what to worship or in fact whether to worship at all. That is was the United States Constitution's separation of church and state is, in my mind, for: to provide a framework for governance and management of affairs between men and women that explicitly does not rely on the differing beliefs of those men and women on how the universe 'is' - rather, one that relies on a secular set of codes and rules in which we can all point to and affirm our participation.

So, on that note, nope, I don't care what they think GOD gave them - the U.S. code doesn't give them the right to sell that DVD, and hence, as far as I'm concerned, they're not selling it. End of story. What that position has to do with the faith or lack thereof of the civil rights activists, I have no idea - unless you are trying to make a value statement about people (i.e. me) based on whether or not they believe in God. Are you? Or worse, are you trying to imply that I was making a value statement about people based on whether or not they believe in God? If so, pppptptptptptppttbt, 'cuz you're wrong. I was making an evaluative statement on the persuasive skills demonstrated by the person on the other end of that email - i.e., poor.

Posted by jbz at 11:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

Political theater and the dance of faces

First things first. If you haven't yet, please read my previous post since this post concerns it. I'll wait.

Okay? Okay.

Really. I'm serious.

Wow. That was fairly awesome. I'm going to assume you've watched the C-SPAN video, RealPlayer craptastic though it is. There is some fascinating stuff going on in there, and I don't even follow these guys much. For it to be that evident means some severe armtwisting and the like has been happening. Where to start?

Let's start with the tone of the room. The Dems are looking fairly feisty. This is to be expected; this week has seen some of the worst polling numbers for Bush and Co. so far, if not the worst, in terms of popularity. The Social Security overhaul is meeting severe resistance not only from Democrats but from Republicans as well, to the point where the normally secretive Karl Rove has been seen giving television interviews about it. Polling on Terry Schiavo indicates that the American public thinks the GOP rushed in too fast in many cases, and many of the weaker congressional Republicans are feeling the pinch. Perhaps due to all these indicators, despite their two-vote gap in the committee, the Dems are here to play. Joe Biden looks at ease, if fired up; he is passionate in tone and manner but his speech and mannerisms don't look forced. Kerry is much much better than he was during the campaign. When he's not forced to stick to issue lists and talking points, his speeches don't stagger around, and he's a much more linear speaker in both tone, pattern and physical affect. Sarbanes is (perhaps actively) exemplifying the confused grandfatherly meme - 'just explain this to me, please?'

In general, they appear to be well prepared, with a game plan. They are handing off to each other, they aren't stepping on each others' issues or hotbutton points, and they're well staffed up.

Lugar, in contrast, looks awful. He's sitting straight up, with absolute minimal body motion. There's a quarter-smile pasted on his face, and he's sweating. I'm not sure what is going on with him. The remainder of the GOP are hard to read, because with the exception of Chafee, Hegel and Allen they appear to have their backs to the primary C-SPAN camera. They're not talking much. The Dems are getting fired up about Bolton.

The initial attempt, by Biden, to get the hearings closed, fails. There is a deal of speechifying by Dems including Kerry eloquently defending the need to protect both the nominee and those presenting 'allegations'. They are rebutted by Sen. Allen (R-Va?) who speaks quickly about open government. Lugar moves to vote immediately on Sen. Biden's motion to close the hearings, prompting mutterings of disbelief from the Dems as the Reps all vote in line to keep the hearings open. Sen. Biden defuses further acrimony by pointing out the Committee rule which requires closed hearings in the event those hearings might 'damage the professional standing' of anyone involved...but he's smiling! So is Kerry!

My take: that was a setup. The Dems absolutely want all information on Bolton in the public domain. They want every opportunity to read every allegation and reiterate every negative piece of testimony on open camera - so there is no political reason they'd want the hearings closed. The GOP reacted reflexively and instantly to their proposal, with Lugar moving so quickly that no-one even had time to protest before he called the vote. He was even prepared with a precedent (from 18 years in the past!) where the chairman had stifled discussion on a closed-session motion; he apparently expected discussion on a closed-session motion and wanted to stifle it to try to hurry the main vote along. It looks like the Dems trapped him on that one, using his desire to hurry the procedure to guarantee open hearings.

There is much presenting of allegation and charges by the Dems in an attempt (apparently) to appeal to those Reps who are not voting on pure partisan lines to consider the nominee's character. They know they only have to flip one, and they're working hard. Lugar tries several times to call for an immediate vote, at one point stating flatly that he has ten Senators who 'are going to vote for the nomination to move to the floor.' Sarbanes shuts him down at least twice, noting that the Senate recessed until 5pm specifically for this debate, and since it's only 10 of 4, what's the point of having the vote? Why not have the debate? Lugar is looking even more uncomfortable; he's got both hands flat on the table in front of him, and he's not turning his head. He's looking around only with his eyes, and he's sweating. This is really interesting. Biden is leaning forward, back, around; Kerry is pensive, then interested, etc. The reps are mostly looking dutifully bored. One (Chafee?) looks somewhat worried, actually

At around 20 after 4, there's a bombshell. Sen. Voinovich (R-Ohio) apologizes for not being in prior sessions with John Bolton present (excuse?) and then states that he's heard enough in today's information alone to feel very uncomfortable voting for John Bolton; at the least, he won't vote to move the nomination to the floor. Boom. The room behind the table gets much more animated. Lugar starts to stutter more. At the same time, however, something very interesting happens - he suddenly relaxes. His hands leave the table. He begins to smile openly, and grin occasionally. His neck begins to work, and he begins using his hands and arms demonstratively. In short, he starts actually emoting - it looks either like he'd been waiting for this or like a gigantic weight has been removed.

This is pure inference, but it reminds me of my own behavior when a deadline is finally irrevocably past; the sort of flip 'ah well, no matter' attitude. Spinning it into a scenario, it looks like to me he has just realized that he has failed to Do His Job, i.e. get the nomination out onto the floor by 5pm today. It's not going to happen. Voinovich has seen to that, and it's not Lugar's fault, really; Voinovich defected (must figure out how/why). So at this point, it's back to business as usual. They start negotiating when to resume hearings and how long to delay the vote.

Barack Obama, in his first statement, acknowledges his junior status and while asking for education on procedure from Lugar manages to get in a zing re: 'what happens if we deadlock, Mr. Chairman?' Nicely done. He's very urbane and smooth, looks relaxed and fresh, and Lugar is still sweaty, rumpled and stuttering, comparatively.

Aha. DailyKos has it. Voinovich is only 2 years into a 6-year term; he's going to outlast Bush no matter what, and he won sixty-something percent of the vote, with Democrats crossing to support him. In other words, he's more popular in Ohio than Bush is.

Conspiracy theory from the same source: maybe he knows something about the Ohio election. Hahahahaha!

Wow. This has been a fun day of observatory parliamentary procedure.

Posted by jbz at 4:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

For all those who think the workings of the U.S. Government are uniformly boring

...I strongly recommend this link. Embedded within it is a 'move on to the next diary' link you can follow for round two. It is a blow-by-blow liveblogging of yesterday's attempted confirmation vote, in which (apparently) the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Lugar, tried to fast-track Bolton's appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. They tried to do so by voting to move the nomination to the floor of the Senate, where it would be voted on by the entire body (and where the Republicans have a comfortable majority).

Some critical background: There have been allegations in recent weeks that Bolton, in addition to his public statements disparaging the United Nations (which make him an odd choice to represent the U.S. there, in my opinion) attempted on several occasions to have subordinate analysts who disagreed with him or would not support positions he espoused fired from their jobs - despite those positions proving later to be unsupported by evidence. In addition, there are rumors of additional allegations of personal impropriety that have surfaced, rumors of evidence supporting them as well. During one period, Bolton apparently requested that the NSA provide him with the names of American government officials whose voices were captured on communications intercepts of foreign targets - apparently in order to determine which of his colleagues were opposing his initiatives inside his department.

In a more immediate context, the committee is (in this hearing) attempting to vote to bring the nomination to the floor. You will hear Sen. Lugar refer to 'five o'clock' because the Senate is in recess until that time, which is why they are able to hold the meeting; at that time, the Senate is scheduled to resume business, and the committee business must close. Therefore, Sen. Lugar has only until 5:00 pm to hold a vote to move Mr. Bolton's nomination to the floor.

There are eighteen members of the committee. Ten of those are Republican, and eight Democrat. If a vote is held to move the candidate to the floor, it can be assumed in one sense that Mr. Lugar has done his job as a 'loyal Republican' - moved the President's nominee to the full Senate, where his party holds sway. He will be pressing to do just that. He is opposed by several Democrats, who (while they do not hold a majority on the committee) feel that the facts the committee have heard make it plain that John Bolton is, frankly, a poor candidate, and they will do all they can to convince any of their Republican colleagues to 'vote their conscience' using whatever procedural means are at their disposal to increase their chances of making their case. Even a delay in the vote is a victory of sorts for the Democrats, as the inability to push the vote to the floor with a 10-8 majority indicates that at least one Republican is wavering on the party's nominee - a clear sign of weakness given the overwhelming advantage the Republicans currently hold in Congress. Couple that with the current Republican rhetoric that nominees (for example, judicial nominees) are being held up by Democratic obstructionism, and a Republican defection is suddenly magnified.

In any case, the political theater is awesome. I strongly recommend that you watch the hearings as well; C-SPAN has them available, although their choice of format is, frankly, abysmal.

Posted by jbz at 2:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

Woo! Restoration Hardware for GEEKS!

Heh. So I checked eBay, because my Asteroids machine (other than now needing some capacitor lovin') has a smashed marquee (that's the painted plexiglass panel with lights behind it at the top which has the machine's name on it). I have one from a prior Asteroids I owned, from which it was the sole surviving part...however, found one for $20 on eBay, original. Can't pass that up. Woooo.


Posted by jbz at 7:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More ways to feel inadequate on the internet

Sigh. This gent is a true maven of one of my favorite pastimes, the Golden Age videogame. I have a few of them, some which work and some which do not; however, I am hamstrung in my drive to become a truly proficient and dedicated Arcade collector: I don't have anyplace to put (much less work on) the things. They won't fit into my apartment - not so much because of space, but because it's a Cambridge first-floor walk-up that's up 1/2 a flight of a square staircase, and nothing this size and inflexibility will go through that door. The basement of my condo, which has room and would be perfect, is down a narrow elbowbasher of a stairway and the outside door is accessed by a deep, narrow concrete stairway with thick rails embedded in it. Plus it's probably a few inches too small. So where are they now? That's...complicated.


My current collection:

  • Atari Star Wars (1 working, 1 not complete)
  • Atari Asteroids (not working, worked for a few days but the spotkiller came on as expected. I need to recap the monitor for sure, perhaps winkle out some other bits.)
  • Atari Battlezone (almost working)
  • Atari Red Baron (working)
  • Atari Tempest (not working)
  • Atari Space Duel (not working)
  • Williams Stargate (not working)
  • Bally/Midway Xenophobe (working)
...someday I'll have a garage, or perhaps (gasp) a shed. Heh. Then look out.

Posted by jbz at 6:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Damn Yankee

...at least, my spoken English is, according to an online test.

Your Linguistic Profile:

50% General American English
40% Yankee
5% Dixie
5% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

Not bad, either...I'm from NYC, but Mom's from St. Louis and Dad's from Chicago, so it makes sense.

Posted by jbz at 6:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


I love getting email directives about how I'm supposed to accept the incoming flood of action requests, pointless training time, wasted effort, disruption of routine and the like that Sarbanes-Oxley brings. I especially love it when they tell me that my role (and my best means of Helping The Company) is "not to question the measures or challenge their validity." It's a capper when said emails are finished off with platitudes about some people in higher authority (not necessarily those who wrote the email) know that I will do my best!

Allow me to offer one small piece of unlooked-for and highly-discouraged feedback: Never, ever tell an obstreperous Opgeek that his role is not to challenge or question something. Ever. Period. This is the surest way in all creation to spark the maximum prepared resistance to anything, be it the most benign and benevolent of measures; I know of Ops who will cheerfully start laying in siege plans to protest the addition of better snacks to their vending machines and the lowering of prices on said goodies if they are told not to challenge or question.

I mean, come on. It's our job to challenge and question. If we didn't do that, all you people Yertle-ing up at the higher end of the food chain wouldn't have services. You wouldn't have your useless fucking Siebel applications. You wouldn't have your immensely resource-intensive communications applications which need incessant care and feeding. Because, bluntly, if we followed the directives that flow from upstream about how to do the technical side of our jobs without questioning and challenging, you might as well give control of the datacenters to the sales organization - and we'll see how long we all last.

Note: I'm not talking about a particular company or organization here. I'm talking in general. This is one of those situations that comes up time and time again - someone at a higher level is involved in a piece of policy whose ramifications come down to the operations level inside the data center, and signs off on it. They do so either knowingly, in ignorance of the situation, or (frequently, to be fair) under duress. Then, these wonderful little missives get sent out. Never mind that the last fifty-seven pieces of useless corporate rah-rah speak from the Publicity Machine were all about how our New Corporate Culture is All About Pushing The Envelope and how we Question Everything In Order To Get Ahead or how we Challenge Boundaries Everyday. Nope, now, this time, don't question or challenge, just shut up and soldier.

Again, this is a generalization.

However, it's one I keep seeing. It's a behavior pattern that kills performance inside bottom-level teams where work gets done, and nothing ever changes. Let me give you one concrete example from the current bit of fuckery: Sarbanes-Oxley. This is shorthand for a whole series of controls and behavioral regulations on corporate organizations, only the smallest part of which (incidentally) deals with internal IT controls and systems, and then only indirectly. However, it is like a magic touchstone which gets pulled out whenever Security Policy du Jour is being floated, AFAICT. Hey! Let's make every user change their password on a strict, short rotating schedule, and require strong password characteristics! This is the kind of thing that sounds great on paper. And it's required for access controls to financial data by the Sarbanes-Oxley types!

What apparently didn't get through to the proposers of said measure (although in that case, I happen to know the group in question DID question and challenge) is that there are people who don't access financial data, and who only use the systems protected by those passwords (corporate LAN, which includes VPN access and other Ways In To Things) intermittently at best because their job doesn't require it. This means that they don't use that password regularly. Now, their sudden fast password churn on that particular access control, coupled with requirements for 'strong passwords' (heh) means that they are guaranteed to never be able to remember it when they do need it. So what do they do?

The obvious thing. They write it down on a sticky note and put it on their workstation. They don't think much about it because they only use that password to get to the corporate phone directory, which can't be that secret, right? They don't even think about what else it could be used to access - and, truthfully, that's not their job. It's the job of the people who implemented the policy - and the job of the people who proposed it.

There's the kicker. Usually, it's not so much the internal types who do this. It's some expensive 'Sarbanes-Oxley Auditor' (an outside firm) who 'recommends' the changes. Everyone nods. Then no-one questions. Or challenges.

I'm not claiming I know more about access control policy, or internal security policy, or in fact anything regarding the substantive issues, than those higher up the chain than me or their auditors. However, I am claiming expertise when it comes to the typical response pattern of those who work in my position. Regardless of how 'correct' the action items on S-O compliance are, couching them inside 'DO NOT CHALLENGE OR QUESTION' emails (before, in fact, a single email had been dispatched doing that, I should add) is somewhat akin to walking up to a group of bored lions while wearing a suit constructed entirely of top sirloin and shouting at them (in Lionspeak) "Do not in any way get any ideas about the steak sauce I am carrying in my briefcase."

Posted by jbz at 2:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 17, 2005

Where to put this post...

...is, in fact, a tough question. First, what the heck is it about? Well. That's easier. I mumbled earlier about the unfolding outcomes of the arrests of protestors at the RNC in NYC last year. In said post, I mentioned that I thought one of the interesting (to me) parts of the story was that it demonstrated the ability of widely available camcorder technology to serve as a check on government behavior.

I received an email from another blogger, whose blog I had noticed via a trackback ping - Saheli, of Musings, and Observations had collected several responses to the NYTimes story in question and had some good questions (and, of course, musings and observations) about them. So, um, hi Saheli! I think I'm supposed to wax witty now.

Which is a perfect time to describe why this post sits in the 'Gear' category. It concerns something that's nagged at me for quite some time, but which I've never been able to decide whether or not is a) practical and b) necessary. Oh, and c) the Right Way To Go About It (quoth Pooh). As I was reading about the edited (read: deleted) scenes from the protest videos which were being used as evidence against the gentleman in the story, I was reminded of this thought which has kicked around in my head for a long, long time.

I keep wondering if there is a way to embed a pseudorandom stream of some sort into a frame-based media stream (like, say, video) which can be used to prove the integrity of the document at a later time. This is fraught with all manner of problems which I can think of right off the bat, and I'm not knowledgeable enough to prove that they can be fixed - plus, I have been convinced by people smarter than I about such matters that when doubt exists, be very very cautious. But still, the general idea seems like a good one to me - and since the basic premise is not one of exclusion or defense but of verification, I continue to pursue it.

Here are the essentials. In the story, a man arrested by the NYPD during the Republican National Convention was stated by the arresting officer under oath to have been acting in violent and generally non-police-approved ways. Videotapes were shown to the court which seemed to if not prove at least not contradict the officer's story. However, at a later date, a researcher came across another videotape of the same events (made by an amateur cameraperson) which, on comparison, clearly showed that the tape presented to the court as an unmodified record of events had, in fact, been modified - and scenes had been deleted which showed the defendant acting in a non-threatening, calm manner as he claimed he had been. The charges were dropped hurriedly, and some excuse regarding 'the wrong scenes being cut by a technician' was offered. Without going into the responsibilities of the prosecution to ensure their case wasn't tainted by such oopses, or the need for investigation into the now-contradicted testimony under oath of the officer (Saheli visits this on her blog) I'd like to talk about that videotape.

I mentioned that having the second videotape around was a demonstration of one way of citizens keeping a check on overreach by government agents (be they police, federal agents, or simply overzealous traffic enforcers). The prevalence of active video cameras at the protests surrounding the RNC made the existence of a second video record of the events in question likely enough to be worth searching for. Without an actual surveillance society (and again, I'll leave the arguments about whether we have one already or not for another time, hello Mr. Orwell and Mr. Bentham) whose records would, in any case, be useless to the average citizen, the dispersal of recording gear among the citizenry and the habitual practice of using said gear whenever the machinery of government acts would seem like a valuable backstop for a civil rights society.

Man, I can be longwinded, can't I? All this to lead back to a technological fantasy. Okay. In any case, recent times have shown also that the problem with camcorders is that the output of a camcorder can be very easily faked - and even more easily and perhaps worse than faked, simply cut or edited to produce a markedly different outcome simply by rearranging the order of events on the record - or just dropping some of them. In the more difficult cases, inserting events or scenes into the record might be done to change the impact of what is shown.

How can the value of the 'third view' (first being eyewitness, second being official surveillance) be preserved? Enter the whole point of this post, only umpteen paragraphs down. Using a method blending, say, the elements of SMPTE, GPS, and MD5 it might be possible to create a 'verification track' on a standard video data stream. This verification track would be encoded as part of the normal video data, thus ensuring it would not require any special equipment or modification - in fact, it would ideally be part of the running video feed, with a visible component verifying its presence. The visible pattern would need to be some form of known progression, in an unobtrusive place (like a station ID bug currently used by many broadcasters) whose transformations could be observed over time during playback and compared to a known, reference signal. Any deviation would signal a break (hence edit) in the original master.

Of course, the verification graphic could simply be added to the final edited cut of the video. As a result, the actual graphic should serve to present a datastream which can be captured and decoded during playback, if necessary at low resolution through a video monitor. This datastream would contain something like the following:

  • A timecode, derived from:
  • A current GPS coordinate for the camera or the verification signal device, if available
  • A pseudorandom number stream, which is generated from a seed given by the operator at the start of recording (perhaps on powerup of the camera, say).
  • A periodic hash of the video data from the current total frame.

This would serve, at later dates, as a validation of the videostream. The timecodes and GPS coordinates, in addition to being useful for continuity data, would allow viewers later to determine the camera position and event timing for evidential purposes (or plain curiousity). The pseudorandom number stream, which is the key to the whole thing, serves two primary purposes: integrity verification and security. The PRN is the output of a Pseudo-random Number Generator. Given a starting point (a 'seed number') a PRNG will produce a stream of what appear to be random numbers. However, if you give the same PRNG the same seed, it will always produce the same stream; furthermore, unless you know the precise PRNG used and its seed state, no matter now much of its output you have in your hand you shouldn't be able to extrapolate what the next result will be.

What this means to us is that if we use this PRN stream to hash and encrypt the 'frames' of our verification data, it becomes very very hard for anyone to edit our video stream undetected. Assume that, during playback, the verification system is present. It is given the 'seed' password it was given during the filming of the video, and the video is set running. The verification system is busily comparing the contents of the verification frames as the video goes along; it's mostly concerned with the value of the PRN stream it's generating itself as compared to the one extracted from the video source. Suddenly, we hit a tape edit- and the stream is broken. A discrepancy shows up. The point is that it would be extremely difficult to manufacture the verification frames necessary to 'fill in the gaps' for a missing or inserted frame, because (presumably) the editor wouldn't have the password. Even if they do have the password, they would still have to find a way for their newly generated stream to hash properly with the now-changed PRN stream - unless they are exceedingly good at math, or their forgery is precisely the same number of frames long, they're going to have trouble making sure the PRN stream comes out right. They would have to modify every PRN frame for the remainder of the video. That's not in itself a real problem, but now every verification frame needs to be hashed again for video data checksumming (perhaps a color balance checksum, or some other means of 'fingerprinting' the frame) as well as having its timecode and GPS position data forged. The problem becomes much, much larger.

This is not a solution. It is not even a proposal for one, really. Mr. Schneier and his colleagues are expert at pointing out holes in security plans like this, which is why I'm posting it, I suppose. I'm not so much interested in negative-proof-by-counterexample, because I can spin scenarios to beat the thing of varying likelihood. What I'm looking for is fundamental problems with the approach. I'm sure they're there. What are they? You tell me.

There are the obvious ones. Password, JB? snort. Password? Yeah, yeah, I know. But for 'password' insert 'secure token of choice.' No, none of them are perfect. But remember. the point is not to make One Perfectly Provable Video. We're hoping and assuming that there will be many cameras. We're trying to raise the bar for monkeying with video evidence high enough that simple editing out of scenes doesn't just 'go unnoticed until another tape is found.' There will always be a way for someone technologically savvy enough to beat any technological system of protection; I accept that maxim. The question is, how expensive is it for them to do so in terms of time and resources? Once you know that, compare that cost to your target. The target here is not the dedicated, determined forger with access to corporate and NSA-style computational resources. The target here is the casually overzealous prosecutor; the harried policeman who wants to cut corners; the angry rent-a-cop with a surveillance camera; the unscrupulous media consultant at a political protest. You're trying to make your multiple handcam records more believable in a world of lust and crime.

Any of this make sense?

How? Oh, hell, I dunno. Perhaps a small addon box with a GPS in it that plugs into the camcorder via Firewire. Maybe a feature on the camcorder itself. Perhaps the camcorder feed goes out the DV slot and onto a HD recorder which adds this track live - an opportunity for the wearable linux hackers. The idea's the thing, with which to catch the excesses of the king.

God, what an awful trampling of a quote.

Posted by jbz at 2:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 13, 2005

RIP - Requescat iPod Pacem

Grrr. Cute tricks with diagnostic mode aside, JohnnyJohnny (the iPod in question) apparently has hard drive issues. Won't get through a sync without making 'CLUNK' noises and freezing iTunes. Ah well, still under warranty, so off he goes, poor thing.

Posted by jbz at 4:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Provo, Novell, the decline of Western Civilization

So I was visiting the mothership out in Provo. Various people asked me, on my return, how I survived, how Provo was, all that sort of thing. I'd been careful to avoid going out there, managing to survive around eighteen months of corporate acquisition without doing so. I have to say, I spent all of my time in the corporate office with my team (IS&T DataCenters, woo) and I had a great time. No propaganda (if you read this blog, you'll know that's not what it's here for, heh). It was good to meet everyone I hadn't yet, face to face. It was good to explain to everyone out there what Peter Pouliot and I do out in the Monkeyhouse back East, and why we do it. I tried (and hopefully succeeded) in getting across the fact that for all our ranting, we're not 'Enterprise-class' Ops - we're small-business Ops. That's what Ximian was. That's what Peter and I have done in our experience, and that's what we're still doing, sort of, working in a satellite developer office and working in an 'experimental' datacenter facility. When we start ranting about Linux and practices and why/how to do things, we're evangelizing The Small Business Op Way - seat of the pants with no backup, just MAKE IT WORK. We are also evangelizing the Linux Way - even in Enterprise Solutions, you can Make It Work without blindly spending money and trusting a vendor who has a good story. You can make it work with free (as in beer and as in speech) tools, with your own brain, and with systems you build yourself and you can watch run.

What we do not know is how Novell as a Big Company(tm) runs its Enterprise Data Centers so as to remain compliant with the many regs and requirements that such an operation finds itself saddled with - requirements that may be reasonable and necessary (redundancy, safety, disaster recovery, security) or maybe overlegislated crap (coughSarbanes-Oxleycough) but are requirements nonetheless. Furthermore, we have never had access to the resources that Novell Data Centers have to solve problems - real storage systems, actual hot backup servers, actual spares chains and service contracts with reasonable response times, the luxury of reviewed solution proposals, other people who monitor systems, etc. etc.

So my point is that my visit out there was incredibly valuable to me (and to those who have to listen to my rants) because it gave me a chance to see what sort of tools I might actually have access to, and what sort of expertise my colleagues out there have that I might be able to go tap. Rather than airily saying on a diagram 'insert Real Storage System here' I can (and should) pick up a phone/IM/email and find someone who does that for a living and say "hey, what would I put here?" and put that there.

Now, Provo.

Provo was beautiful, in that 'Ooh! Look! Mountains!' sort of way. I'm from Manhattan, so anything over, say, thirty feet high is a novelty. It's handy to always know that East is that way. I even find the grid street system nostalgically handy (Manhattanite, again). Provo itself, however, sort of reminded me of nothing so much as the worst bits of Route 1 New Jersey, cloned by a demonic SimCity player and laid out in grid form. Miles of tiny stripmalls and little Sixties-era storefronts, with crappy BYU student housing interspersed with gas stations and cluttered signage. And no trees. Anywhere.

I'm fairly sure that all the nice places to live are somewhere else, like, say, up in those mountains that are visible from anywhere. I didn't go there, of course, because I was driving a Ford POS which didn't evince confidence on a flat road, much less up where there was still snow. From what people were telling me, the real estate pricing was such that even folks on, say, my salary might be able to procure fairly nice living conditions Up In Them Thar Hills, so I'm sure most folks have in fact done so. The signs in Provo proper saying "1 BR Rent $99" make that seem quite likely.

People? The people in Provo I interacted with were all very nice. Nice in a very non-L.A. manner. Nice in a manner that made me incredibly comfortable to be there. Nice in a 'gee, these are just polite considerate folks.' At the restaurant I stopped at, I was reading a book (I was alone) - and the servers made sure that they weren't interrupting me too frequently, asking me if they should approach to check if I wanted anything. They asked once. When I indicated that they should, they continued to do so, but very unobtrusively, not chattering, just wandering by, raising an eyebrow. When I wasn't reading, they'd come by and ask. Folks in the bookstore, when I asked about a title, made light conversation about my choice, with knowledge about the subject - not too much, not fluffy. People I passed, if I made eye contact, would genially nod, say 'Good afternoon.' Nothing overdone, and nothing space-invading like SoCal.

Exceptions - well, yeh. The Marriott Conference Center staff barely escaped a beatdown, but I'm willing to put that down to some corporate training bullshit. A previous post details one problem, but they may have been from out of town.

Still, there was one thing that bothered the heck out of me about the region. I mean, a lot. It's hard to explain without telling a story, which will make this already rambling post EVEN LONGER. Sorry.

Driving down from Salt Lake City International Airport to Provo is a jaunt of around 48 miles on I-15. There are many billboards. This makes sense; the region relies on tourism and (if you believe the Governor of Utah, who spoke at Novell Brainshare) on high-tech business. So far, so good.

The problem is that on no less than three of those massive billboards, there were egregious spelling errors. My favorite was for 'THE SMOKE SHOP', which purports to sell, I shit you not, 'CIGARS, CIGARETTES, and TOBBACO.'


Now, let me be quite clear. I have no issue with the fact that someone made a spelling error. I make them myself frequently. To err is human. This is why we invented the spellchecker, after all. But in this case, this bothers me quite a bit - not because of the spelling error, but because of the fact that the error made it that far, remains, and what those things tell us about the climate. How many people had to see that error before it got painted in seven-foot-tall letters across a billboard overlooking an interstate highway? The client who wrote the ad copy. The agency that took it? The contractor who painted it? The painter themselves? At a minimum, three or four people? Did none of them notice it? Did no-one run out to look at this ad and say 'gee, we paid money for this, and whoops, there's a spelling error here?' Did anyone notice the error in the process and either say 'not my problem' or say 'ha-ha I'm not telling them'? What?

If the client made the spelling error, how? They, apparently, sell tobacco for a living. They must see the word on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Yet, there it is.

Driving down the highway, I'm assaulted with the error, which has made it through numerous potentional layers of correction and checking. What does this tell me about the environment in which this billboard sits? It tells me, the cynical intellectual from out of town, that the environment in which this billboard sits, doesn't give a shit about basic spelling - about the basic written language - at least, insofar as it comes down to selling things to me. Now, given that this billboard is sitting on a highway not very many miles from the airport astride the route to one of the most heavily touristed areas of Utah (skiing, Sundance, Snow Park, etc. etc.) along with the High Tech Area the Governor was going on about) I have to assume that I am at least part of the intended audience.

But again, the basics of communication - accurate use of language - are not so important here. I will mention that this is one of three of such errors I saw on billboards on this single pass, at night, in high-speed heavy traffic, between SLC and Provo. I won't go into the spelling of various would-be-ethnic food on the menus at the Provo Marriott, because of the plethora of potential vectors of idiocy there.

I will note that although myself and various co-workers have trouble spelling, there are times that we know we have to get it right. Configuring servers. Writing emails to fairly high-up authorities. Do we always? No, we don't. Do we try? Yes, we do. More to the point: do we seek second opinions? Yes, we do, in those cases. Do we misspell Linux, when talking to a customer? We damn well try not to, and we damn well ask each other to check our statements for that. If our message is going down on hard copy, we treble and quadruple-check - and we still don't catch all our errors. But as soon as they are pointed out to us, we do everything in our power to make them right. How long has that billboard been there? I don't know, but it didn't look new.

But, as I've been told, there are more important things to worry about - like whether or not people are teaching that hideous evolution claptrap in schools. Whether the people teaching in those schools might be gay. Whether the people in those schools might be gasp DEMOCRATS WHO WANTED TO KILL TERRY SCHIAVO. That's the message I'm bombarded with by the Party in Power and its' minions, these days - that I'm the enemy, and that my concerns are those of a Godless, heathen, Northeast Liberal = Evil Incarnate Communist (insert smug smirk here) Liberal Bastard who can't be trusted to Defend This Country from the Horrible Threats Facing It.

After all, when the gays and the A-rabs and the commies are out after you, who gives a shit if little Tommy can spell? And really, who gives a shit if a billboard is spelled properly?

I begin to see what Karl Rove and other various Republican White House aides mean when they deride the 'Reality Based Community,' telling its representatives (in the form of New York Times reporters) that 'Every time you people chuckle over GW's malapropisms or misspellings, you do our work for us, because regular people love him because he's just like them.' Apparently so. The fucking President can't fucking spell, form a fucking sentence, or have a fucking thought himself.

Probably smokes Tobbaco, too.

Posted by jbz at 3:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Surreality tax

I can't remember who I was talking to about this, so if it was you, I'm sorry. I'm not trying to steal the idea. But I would be *so* up for paying a surreality tax. That is, a small fee paid to my municipality, or actors therein, by which my day would be made a bit more surreal. Think of that awful movie without the danger or 'intruding into people's lives' or 'personal nature of the intrusion.' A perfect example can be found here. Why the hell don't I live in NYC so I could be involved with this genius? Oh yes, because I'll never be able to afford to live there again, that's why. Sigh.

Posted by jbz at 3:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


If they can have theirs, I can have mine.

Prima facie, this seems a decent plan.

Posted by jbz at 2:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

iPod Stuck on Apple Logo - fix

Put my iPod in the cradle today and got a lovely looping Apple Logo (boot, Apple logo, hiccup, blank screen, Apple logo, wash, rinse, repeat.) Resetting the iPod (it's a 4th gen, so hold down Select and Menu) simply started the cycle over. After thrashing around a bit, I tried running the restore program on my Mac, but that wouldn't work either, because the iPod wouldn't come up far enough for the Mac to recognize it either as an iPod or even as a Firewire disk (argh).

Anyway, the eventual solution: Diagnostic mode. Woohoo! Yep, if you have a 4th gen iPod that won't talk to you (in my case, if you have an Apple logo stuck on the screen) try the following sequence of steps:

  • Hold down Select / Menu (to reboot the iPod)
  • As soon as the Apple logo appears, hold down Rewind / Select until...
  • ...you see a backwards Apple Logo.
  • At this point, you will have entered Diagnostic Mode. It'll test the RAM, and then tell you to HIT PLAY TO CONTINUE. Hit 'Play'.
  • You'll be in a menu that you advance by hitting FF (Fast Forward). Advance to the 'DISKMODE' entry.
  • Hit 'Select.' This will put you into Firewire Disk mode. The screen should change to the familiar 'Do Not Disconnect' mode. At this point, connect it to the computer.
  • Run the restore utility; it should now recognize the iPod and offer to Restore the factory software. Do so. You'll lose whatever's on it, but you'll avoid having to send it back in to Apple and pay them $49 or whatever to do basically the same thing. :-)

Posted by jbz at 2:41 PM | Comments (60)

Lessons learned

The more eyes, the better. This makes me upset that I don't own some form of cheap camcorder. That impulse, in turn, makes me think about the balance of privacy, anonymity and public responsibility. On the other hand, if I want to be anonymous and maintain my privacy, I should be smart enough to not be walking around near large public functions like the Republican National Convention. I object to always-on, government-controlled surveillance of public places. However, I support the right of citizens to record the agents of government doing their job in order to maintain a check on their behavior, because (as this story clearly shows) sometimes those checks are vitally necessary.

Posted by jbz at 9:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 10, 2005

Coming to the party late

...yet again, I seem to have the excellent A Night at the Hip-Hopera by the Kleptones on repeat. It was handed to me by a co-worker along with the wise words "I know you don't like hip-hop. You're not too smart sometimes. Shut up and listen."

Wise man.

My only annoyance is that the BitTorrent tracker for their other albums doesn't seem to be working at the moment. Hmph. Must keep trying.

Posted by jbz at 7:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 8, 2005

More Motherless Bastards.

Well. Had to happen. It appears that the publicity we received during the latest round of silliness has attracted not just the usual eBay parasites, but those of a whole new order. This crew talks about how they 'purchase their media from a variety of sources' and asks you to 'click a payment method below to see what options are available for purchase.' However, somehow, if you do click a payment method (well, pay-by-mail or 'use our secured server' at least, paypal was down when I tried) you seem to only be able to order the '7 DVD set' for $149.00. Hmm, interesting. They seem pretty sure of their ability to supply this wonderful DVD set, which, to belabor the obvious point, must in fact be an illegal copy. Indicating to me that they are most likely manufacturing it.

Who are they? Dunno (yet). Where are they? Well, according to their order form:

          Order by Mail: Order Form     
Printable Order Form for Check or Money Order  
ALL 14 EPISODES ON 7  DVDS     $149 95       
Domestic Shipping                $5 00            
                        Total  $               
City, State, & Zip      
Email Address (optional)   
Send check or money order made payable to:   
Primary Source    
Mail your order to:   
#### -------- Avenue Suite #251  Berkeley, Ca 94704  
May have to take a wander over there when I'm in the neighborhood and see what we got.

And believe you me, if I find out that there happens to be a DVD manufacturing op set up using master files from the Eyes on the Screen effort...well...I don't think it'd be possible for me to be more irritated about that. But I guess anything is possible. Especially since the proponents of that effort keep telling me that that effort is only good for everyone. My protests that earnest viewers will be taken in by operations like this were continually met with blithe assertions that the 'free' availability of the files would make that problem moot, and the pressure on my family to re-release a 'legal' version of the films would mitigate it as well. Newsflash: you released the files. They're out there. People are still willing willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money for counterfeit crap-quality DVDs on eBay; I know, because I have to keep spending time filling out VERO notices for the stupid auctions. Why? Because most of the world isn't able to download a BitTorrent file and burn a DVD to use in their living room; the copyfight protesters in this case aren't speaking for the general public. They're speaking for a technological and cultural elite, and their proposed solution doesn't protect the access rights of the 'general public' - it simply makes it easier for unscrupulous but tech-savvy folks to fleece the same.

Oh, and the reason we haven't brought out a legal version, before anyone asks me with righteous indignation, is because despite said publicity, no-one has stepped up to the plate to invest the money required for such a licensing and mastering effort. My family doesn't have the resources, and more than one potential investor has backed away from the project. No, it wasn't because of monies we demanded, either, to answer several fairly rude assumptions made in emails. No investors have been forthcoming since the recent publicity; all of these predate the publicity push.

"Prime Media," eh? Hello, boys. "Chad Arrington." Right, suuure. You also sell a $49.95 guide to getting a new social security number, eh? Why am I not surprised. Caveat emptor, I suppose. Oh, hello; Mr. Arrington appears to be familiar with complaints. Well, then, time to write the USPS Postal Inspectors a little letter, I suppose. Ha; he's even cited as precedent when dealing with postal service lowlifes. Lovely.

Posted by jbz at 2:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 7, 2005

Elevator Action

So I get back to the hotel last night from work. I finally discover why I was placed in a room in the South Tower of the Marriott Conference Center in Provo, UT: they're short on space. There is some form of Future Leaders conference, or other youth-based boondoggle, which is occupying a great deal of the hotel. No problem. Kids everywhere, which is fine - honestly, I'd rather have an honest game of touch football going on in the hallway than cranky business people (like me, I'm saddened to realize).

I get on the elevator in the lobby, carrying my laptop. Frankly, I'm beat, looking forward to nothing more than a good solid snooze, perhaps prefaced with an hour or two of WoW. Punch 4, yawn, lean against wall while the Slowest Elevator In The World grinds shut, rattles upwards.

Stops on Two.

Instantly fills up with a noisy, wet (wet?) crowd, pressing me back into a corner. Open eyes, investigate. I have been sardined by approximately nine or ten girls in bathing suits, age maybe fourteen or fifteen, just out of the pool. Talking a mile a minute, mostly about the fact that they didn't bring towels and really really want to get to their rooms. A few apologetic smiles, which I return as I hold my Powerbook over my head to avoid either soaking it or poking anyone uncomfortably with the overfull laptop bag.

We reach four. I wait while the thundering herd dashes from the elevator and vanishes down the hall in a parade of, well, there's no better word, squeals. I have time to wonder where, in fact, any of them might have been hiding a keycard, grin at the thought, hope someone's there to let them in, and get off the elevator.

There are two couples waiting for the car, in their sixties, I'd guess. All four of them give me extremely dirty looks. One of the women actually sniffs at me. I stopped, dead, because I was so tired it took me maybe five seconds of thought to figure out what their fucking problem was. It was so in contrast to the everpresent nice of Provo-ness that I damn well wasn't going to leave without returning fire, and I wasn't going to return fire blind, so I just stood there, blocking the elevator door, looking at them. This, in turn, caused them to stop and give me even more dirty looks. After a few seconds, though, light dawned. Parents - probably grandparents - seeing a middle-aged guy get off an elevator after being sandwiched behind a whole bunch of wet teenage girls, grinning. Then they make an assumption.

At that point, I made an assumption. I'll just note that I was the only non-white person I'd seen all day, and it was starting to grate on me; but I really just let myself assume it wouldn't have been an issue if I'd not been, well, me. I was wearing a collared shirt, non-blue jeans, and carrying a computer bag - and I'd had a haircut recently, with grey visible. I looked much less like a reprobate than usual. The only thing odd looking about me, for that hotel? Yep, you guessed it.

I gave them a large grin, extended my arm, and flipped the bird at each of them in turn. For a good two seconds each. About one foot from each of their faces. Then I left.

Posted by jbz at 6:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 5, 2005

Desk Toy

Desk Toy
Originally uploaded by jbzimmerman.
Visiting the Mothership for a few days this week in Provo, UT. In my hoteling cube, I found a pair of really nice Advent powered speakers (yay!) and...this. I dunno why we have it, although I can guess; but come on - buttons, wi-fi, a gun grip, lasers, touch screen, bluetooth, embedded OS...surefire geek productivity killer.

I wonder if they'd notice if it vanished back to the Cambridge office and started running experimental Linux builds?

Update:Hm. Someone just told me what this thing cost. I guess they'd mind. Gr.

Posted by jbz at 11:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Another Winner From Texas.

Tom DeLay wasn't enough, apparently. Nope, now we have Senator Cornyn (R-TX) taking a turn at the mike. Today's topic: 'Activist judges.' This is in the wake of DeLay's attack on the judiciary re: the Schiavo case; Sen. Cornyn has apparently given voice to the following. I will note up front: my source for this so far is three blogs, including that of Representative Conyers (D-MI).

Here are some gems from Cornyn:

…it causes a lot of people, including me, great distress to see judges use the authority that they have been given to make raw political or ideological decisions. And no one, including those judges, including the judges on the United States Supreme Court, should be surprised if one of us stands up and objects.

And, Mr. President, I'm going to make clear that I object to some of the decision-making process that is occurring at the United States Supreme Court today and now. I believe that insofar as the Supreme Court has taken on this role as a policy-maker rather than an enforcer of political decisions made by elected representatives of the people, it has led to the increasing divisiveness and bitterness of our confirmation fights. That is a very current problem that this body faces today. It has generated a lack of respect for judges generally. I mean, why should people respect a judge for making a policy decision borne out of an ideological conviction any more than they would respect or deny themselves the opportunity to disagree if that decision were made by an elected representative?

Of course the difference is that they can throw the rascal -- the rascal out -- and we are sometimes perceived as the rascal -- if they don't like the decisions that we make. But they can't vote against a judge because judges aren't elected. They serve for a lifetime on the federal bench. And, indeed, I believe this increasing politicalization of the judicial decision-making process at the highest levels of our judiciary have bred a lack of respect for some of the people that wear the robe. And that is a national tragedy.

And finally, I – I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news. And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in -- engage in violence. Certainly without any justification but a concern that I have that I wanted to share.

You know, it's ironic, if you look back, as we all have, being students of history in this body, all of us have been elected to other -- to other bodies and other offices and we're all familiar with the founding documents, the declaration of independence, the constitution itself, we're familiar with the federalist papers that were written in an effort to get the constitution ratified in New York state. Well, Alexander Hamilton, apropos of what I want to talk about here, authored a series of essays in the Federalist Papers that opined that the judicial branch would be what he called the -- quote -- "least dangerous branch of government." The "least dangerous branch." He pointed out that the judiciary lacked the power of the executive branch, the white house, for example, and the federal government and the political passions of the legislature. In other words, the congress. Its sole purpose -- that is, the federal judiciary's sole purpose was to objectively interpret and apply the laws of the land...

Hm. So apparently, with the sole exception of the phrase Certainly without justification which is buried in the rest of the speech, Senator Cornyn would like us all to cogitate on the proposition that 'activist judges' in a 'politicalized judiciary' are somehow inciting rage from the poor citizenry through their ideological tramplings over the rule of law and the actions of the stalwart and responsible-to-the-citizenry-Congress. Furthermore, it's tragic what these judges are doing, and it's an understandable progression to violence on the part of these citizens...if, of course, 'without justification.'

As another commentator points out, it would be difficult to image Senator Cornyn being so quick to voice concern if in fact those being attacked in their governmental workplaces were, in fact, Senators.

The depth of irresponsibility that this reaches simply staggers me. I haven't yet seen an allusion made to 'ridding us of these troublesome priests' so I'll make a tortured one there, because that's what this speech brings instantly to my mind. Of course, I'm part of the 'reality-based community' so my associations, fortunately, have little to do with the experiences of anyone currently in power in our government.

As Rep. Conyers notes, that same 'activist judiciary' gave the Republican party Bush v. Gore in the matter of the 2000 election. No Democrat lawmakers spoke on the floor of Congress about the judiciary sowing the seeds of their own violent ends then. Of the contested judicial nominations put forth by President Bush, whose opposition seems to have sparked the assault on the filibuster (a long-cherished check in the Congress, used by both parties), it should be pointed out that while perhaps a ten or so judges have been vetoed-by-filibuster, many, many more (over two hundred?) have been confirmed by the Democrats in Congress - a fairly remarkable success rate. If these current mutterings about 'judicial activism' and subsequent incredibly irresponsible hatemongering from the Republican Congressional camp stem from dissatisfaction with the veto of those last few, I have to ask - how much more petty and have-your-cake can you get, boys? What do these ten have that the other two-hundred-plus don't? If it's a lean to the right, doesn't threatening to overturn Congressional process to slam through the fringe five percent of your nominee list look a wee bit zealous?

Give it the fuck up. The emperor's not only got no clothes, he's got one finger up his nose and the other clutched around his somewhat limp dick and is muttering to himself.

Posted by jbz at 4:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 1, 2005

Want to feel inadequate? Welcome to the internet.

The indefatiguable Luis Villa reminds me, after my previous entry, that whatever you say on the Internet, someone has said it better. Well, no, he was really cool about it and really didn't mean it that way - he just thought I might find it a good read (suuuuure, like he wasn't trying to save you all from the sap-factor of my o'erweening nationalist fromagefest by suggesting I read my betters). Okay, Luis. Okay. Message received. :-)

Everyone should check out what happens when someone with a much stronger sense of humor than I misses Republicans. Because it's funny. Also because it's true.

Posted by jbz at 9:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack