Archives

Archives / 2005 / March
  • PLEASE NOTE: This blog has moved to Slashstar.com

    Technically, I moved this blog to Slashstar almost a year ago (April 14, 2004), but I've been cross-posting all of my content to both locations.

    Well, last week I upgraded Slashstar to Community Server - which among other things means that, at least in the short term, new content will no longer be syndicated. (I may eventually upgrade that provider code to cross-post only technical content).

    I would love to permanently redirect everyone, but unfortunately that's not supported in .Text (and I have no ability to install HttpModules on weblogs.asp.net). If you are still subscribed to this feed, please point your aggregators at the new feed . Alternatively, you can subscribe to our main feed to also get good content from Alex, Omer, Dave.

    If anyone else is looking for a new place to hang their virtual hat, drop me a line.

  • Toshiba develops detachable display

    From TabletPCBuzz:

    Toshiba has developed a detachable display that the company says will combine the convenience of a Tablet PC with the computing power of a notebook. The display could be available in about three years, the company said at this week's CeBIT trade show.

    The company has already developed a prototype stylus-operated display that can be detached from a notebook PC, and is showing it here. The 12.1-inch TFT LCD screen with XGA (1024 by 768 pixels) resolution communicates with a Toshiba notebook "base station" via the 802.11b wireless protocol, says Hajime Yamaguchi, a research scientist at Toshiba's Advanced Electron Devices Laboratory.

    Wow. I want one.


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  • Did you hear the one about the lawyer and the software engineer?

    phosita points to a post claiming that software engineers are stupid - at least when compared to lawyers.

    The author's underlying premise is that the legal profession has a high barrier to entry that, in turn, guarantees high salaries.

    Each step is a filter.  For example, only 66% of students finish high school.  Fewer complete a university degree.  Even fewer are admitted to law school, and even fewer complete it.  30% of law school graduates are going to fail the bar exam, and only about 10% of these students will land a job at a good law firm.  Finally, only about 20% new associates in a good law firm are likely to make partner.

    As a result, very competent people who could certainly serve as excellent lawyers are barred from giving legal advice to anyone (for example, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Michael Dell, and Rush Limbaugh).  Also, the legal bar has an adverse effect on minorities, limiting the number of minorities available to serve as potential judges and legal advocates.  But, these restrictions to practice keep legal fees at a healthy $300 per hour.

    It is important to recognize the point he makes in the second paragraph above: while proving to be an effective barrier to entry, these filters largely test a person's work ethic and commitment, not their intelligence. Sure, you have to be reasonably intelligent to get through law school and pass the bar, but there is a reason the legal profession attracts the super Type A personalities. As someone who is both a part-time law student and a software engineer, I've encountered many more people I would consider "brilliant" in the technical world than in the legal world.

    I think the legal profession is the "now what?" choice for a lot of people. Many (not all, of course) end up there because they don't know what else to do and, unlike many other advanced degrees, doesn't require a specific background.

    If you want to go to medical school, there's a rigid program that you take the minute you enter college. And if you happen to party to o much during your freshman year and bomb Bio, well, you might as well change majors immediately. Similarly, pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics or computer science or economics would be very difficult without the relevant background.

    Law school doesn't have such prerequisites. In that sense, the barrier to entry is lower. Anyone, regardless of your background, can go to and be successful in law school. There are no subject tests on the LSAT.

    Of course, the point he's making is that there are no barriers to entry for a software developer. He may be right in terms of formal barriers, but I have to disagree that "anyone" can be a software developer. Like many of you, I started programming at a young age. I probably learned as much through experimentation and developing on my own than I did in my formal education. Creativity, technical knowledge, and problem-solving are all critical to being a software engineer.

    By contrast, the nature of the law is following precedent. Generally, I would say there is little "innovation" (by design) and, in many aspects, originality and creativity is frowned upon.

    I was actually discussing this with my girlfriend the other day. Lawyers really have a great racket going. Their higher salaries are a direct result of an artificially limited supply and speak nothing about quality. Then again, developers will generally make a very nice living without working 100 hour weeks or shelling out $100k for a degree.

    Maybe the software engineers aren't stupid after all.

    (Oh, it seems Scoble picked this one up too)


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  • Terrible UI

    Someone please explain this message to me:


    Important Message
    You clicked on the button indicating you are a new user, but you also gave a password. If you are a new user, please do not enter a password yet. If you are a returning user, please click on the button indicating that you are a returning user.

    Uh, if I type a password, then you should damn well assume I am a returning user and update your radio button.... or else I won't be a returning user for much longer.


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  • Opting out of content changes a la Autolink

    Kevin points to a proposed Google Autolink Opt-Out Metatag.

         meta name="ContentAltering" content="{restrictions}"

    We already saw how effective the Web can be at getting these changes implemented (in the nofollow attribute), so it would not surprise me in the least to see Google follow suit here. It sets an important precedent, as anyone who follows in the Autolink footsteps will also have the pressure of supporting this tag.

    I don't think I would actually use that here - I'm not sure what good it really does me - but hopefully Google recognizes the potential implications that changing web content can have and embraces this.


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  • When you buy a CD, what are you getting?

    Last month, Kevin addressed the question of whether simultaneous downloading is theft. His answer:

    Probably not because they've been focused on the uploaders, but they might come after you if you make your iTunes catalog available via limewire, however, I haven't seen them go after someone for less than 8 available uploads.

    As I mentioned on comments there, I think the more important is not whether they would go after you, but whether they can. It goes to the underlying question: If I purchase a CD, what am I actually getting?

    Is my license tied to the particular media? Well, no, since ripping your CDs to listen on an MP3 player would likely fall under the Fair Use exception. Is there a difference if, instead of ripping my own CD, I download it as suggested above? Does it matter that it technicaly came from a different source, or should we only consider whether it's the same work? What about two live versions of the same copyrighted song? (Assuming each performance was not also protected by copyright).

    What about the right to perform the sound recording publicly? If I buy a CD, can I play it for at my party? (See For Your Ears Only, linking to a not-so-far-fetched parody).

    The non-commercial nature would probably be a big consideration here. By playing the music for others in my car, I'm probably not affecting the commercial market in a negative way; in fact, it might be argued that I'm actually helping the market, since it might encourage my friend to go out and buy the CD himself. Look how much money the record companies spend trying to get songs on the radio.

    Maybe we should also consider how music is consumed in comparison to other copyrighted works. Consider how many times you've listened to your favorite album vs. how many times you've watched your favorite movie or read your favorite book - it's probably an order of magnitude different.

    Would the scenario above change if I asked my guests to bring a bottle of wine and kept any leftovers? (This is certainly a consideration in determining Social Host Liability - does it change the non-commercial nature here?). What if I asked them all to chip in to cover the costs of the party?

    The question of whether the person uploading the mp3 file is infringing is even murkier. It's harder to make the case that making a copy falls under Fair Use; that is, after all, perhaps the single most important right that copyright protects. But what changes when the person I'm reproducing it for already has a license?

    Perhaps computer software illustrates this point better. Let's imagine we both purchased Microsoft Office and we each have our own product keys. You manage to lose your CD. Am I allowed  to give you a copy of my CD, if you would be installing it with your product key?

    Any thoughts or comments?


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  • When should a Blogger be treated as a Journalist?

    NYT has an article addressing the cases Apple has brought against three online sites. These cases center around theft of trade secrets, but the question before the court is whether bloggers should be treated as journalists under a California statute that allows reporters to keep their sources confidential.

  • Wireless Flash Drives

    I've wondered for awhile why there are no Bluetooth Flash Drives (or at least why I can't seem to find them). There are dual-purpose USB flash drives / USB Bluetooth dongles, but no drive that I can connect to over Bluetooth.

    It seems this would really solve the problem of synchronization I discussed in the past. The USB flash drive idea works well in theory, but I found that it was not sustainable in practice. When I had a thought, I wanted to be able to capture it immediately. As ridiculous as this may sound, the extra step of taking the drive out of my bag and plugging it in to do this just didn't work; often I found myself just resorting to local notes instead.

    If it was always connected, however, I wouldn't have this problem. The only thing I would need to do is make sure I had my flash drive, something I could easily do. (Analagous, perhaps, to remembering to bring a physical notebook).

    Actually, I've been thinking of using my smartphone for precisely this, but I haven't yet figured out how to map a drive letter to the storage card.

    It seems that the Wireless USB protocol is being finalized, and it's hopefully a Wireless USB Flash Drive is among the many products to be released in the coming year.

    Engadget cites ease of configuration (or lack thereof) among the reasons why Bluetooth hasn't quite caught on. There are certainly heard horror stories with Bluetooth compatibility, and although I haven't run into any problems myself, USB devices are undoubtedly easier to use.

    In the quest to make Wireless USB easy to use, I only hope they don't completely ignore security. (A WEP-like system, although not perfect, would be a start). In the case of a wireless drive, maybe it's better to err on the side of caution (in terms of granting access) than just making it easy to connect.


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  • Photo ID and Security

    Donna at Copyfight points to a feature about EFF co-founder John Gilmore and his refusal to show photo id at the airport. Security guru Bruce Schneier has already discussed one reason why photo identification is flawed as a security measure.

    In terms of security, this is no big deal; the photo-ID requirement doesn't provide much security. Identification of passengers doesn't increase security very much. All of the 9/11 terrorists presented photo-IDs, many in their real names. Others had legitimate driver's licenses in fake names that they bought from unscrupulous people working in motor vehicle offices.

    There are two aspects of security at play here: authentication and authorization. Authentication deals with proving you are who you say you are; Authorization is determining whether that person is allowed to do something. When your authentication fails, it basically renders any attempt at authorization useless.


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  • Are sport stats copyrightable?

    Chris points to an interesting article that discusses, among other things, ownership rights over baseball stats.

    Facts are not subject to copyright because they do not owe origin to an act of authorship (see Feist) and I have a hard time buying the argument that statistics are anything other than facts. Of course, the MLB might have some protection in the creative arrangement of the facts, but this doesn't mean others can't use the underlying facts in non-infringing ways.

    Ridiculous.


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  • Album Reviews: 50 Cent - The Massacre

    When I was hip-hop director of my college radio station in 1999, I received a promo copy of 50 Cent's debut album, Power of the Dollar. As soon as I listened to it, I was a huge fan. It remains one of my favorite rap albums of all time. It also cemented 50 among my favorite lyricits, with lines like: “An old timer who schooled me told me, don't burn bridges my friend / Imagine if the G.Dub closed and your ass had to swim.” Shortly afterwards, as the story goes, he was shot 9 times and dropped from Universal. The album was never released. (As Jada said, he had to be shot nine times to get rich).

  • Google Compute

    It seems Google has begun/is continuing the process of rolling out Google Compute to Toolbar users. If I recall correctly, this was actually available for a couple of years. You could manually install the client, and there was talk awhile back of installing it on the toolbar. This morning is the first time I've seen this show up here.