MonthNovember 2005

Ian has been and gone, leaving giggles and makeouts in his wake. Thank you very, very much to Deb Core, Sumana Harihareswara, Joan Wood, Sharon Calhoun, Lisa Brown, Scott Stauble, Kyle Neumann, Angel Brooks, Ken Moore, Monica Willett, Sean Hoban, and especially Maria, whose idea this was in the first place. You guys are the champions of friendship!

Okay, let’s be men for a minute. 101 words isn’t much of a challenge anymore. I’ve been cramming stuff into that space for almost two and a half years and, like a man who plays Tetris every day, I pretty much know what is going to fit where.

I don’t want to change that constraint on Anacrusis because, while challenge is an important part of a constraint, it’s not the only part. It’s an easy selling point; it’s a convenient finish line on days when I’ve got very little material. Besides, I like the form and I’m not done playing with it. But the fact remains that as a device, the word limit has lost much of its ability to stir up ideas.

So. Something new, with occasional interruptions, starting today.

How to tell that my family wins at life


Actually, the whistling is optional.

Man, today’s new virus email was pretty cool! The subject line was “You visit illegal websites,” and it was spoofed to appear like it came from “” Attachment: the standard ZIP file. Little do they know that all the illegal websites I visit are based outside the US, and would fall under the purview of the CIA! AH HA!

Seriously, if you get that or a similar email, don’t open the attachment, don’t open the email, don’t even preview it. Just hit the Junk button in Thunderbird and whistle a merry tune. (You are using Thunderbird, right?)

I think the killer app for Mechanical Turk is already out there. Think about it: what’s very simple for a human, very hard for a computer, shows up everywhere and acts as a gatekeeper from potentially greater value?

That’s right: those little “verify you’re a human” image boxes that make you transcribe a series of bendy, obscured letters and numbers in order to leave a Blogger comment, or get an LJ account or a GMail address. (Less awkwardly, more annoyingly, they’re called CAPTCHAs.) Yoz Grahame pointed out like a year ago that these are a solved problem: you just go to a CAPTCHA page, grab the image, and put it in front of porn on one of your other sites. Step three: profit!

The only problem with that scenario is that, well, there are ways to get porn without all that tiresome thinking, and most porn-seekers will take them over your time-consuming verification step. It’s easier to type BRITTNAY SPEER NUDE into Google Image Search than it is to decipher Ty$23YiD.

But if MT’s model works (and I’m not saying it does; right now only Amazon uses it, and you’d have to work hard and boringly to make five bucks an hour), and if it gets sufficiently popular that the site’s admins won’t notice spammers slipping CAPTCHAS in, this could be a viable crack. Sign up for an account, pay Random Human two cents to verify it, and spam, spam away. It’s okay, say the servers you’re using to link your herbal V1agra incest mortgage. I know that’s not a bot!

CAPTCHAs are the least bad solution to bot-signups out there right now, but I hope the tech startups that are built around providing that kind of authentication don’t get comfortable. They’ve never been more than a stopgap.

HEY BALLERS. There will exist, this week, an unprecedented Wednesday Night Basketball because that’s when Ian will be here. There will be games and pizza. There will be shouting. Tuesday Night Basketball will not happen, because we will need the evening to fortify the apartment against you barbarians, but if Scott and Yale and Kilz0r are available we should try to do the thing with the stuff, that night. Right?

PS If you have pledged money toward the Bring Ian Home Fund and want to give it to us so you get to sign the card, the next few days would be ideal for that–we’ll be handing it over Wednesday night. (If you have already paid but can’t be there, we will forge your signature.) Thanks very, very much to everyone who has helped with this!

The second time I’ve ever linked Slashdot. Via Downhill Battle.

Okay, so DC beat me to posting about Sony’s big fat recall, but now I’m scooping him: the rootkit contained GPLed de-DRMS code by DVD Jon! I know that makes no sense. Give me a second.

“DVD” Jon Johansen is a Norwegian hacker who likes to take things like DVD encryption and Apple’s iTunes digital rights management (DRM) software and meet them in a steel cage (and win). He releases the software he writes under an open-source license called the GPL, a legally binding agreement that says “hey, you can freely look at and reuse this source code, but only if you release code derived from it under the same license.” Like the Creative Commons license I use, the GPL is just working within existing copyright law.

Now, the XCP software that’s causing such a fuss–because it installs itself on your computer without your consent when you pop in a Sony music CD, is very difficult to find or remove, deprives you of your fair use rights and makes you vulnerable to a whole new brand of virus–needs a way to interact with the CD-ripping functionality of Apple’s iTunes. iTunes creates AAC files when it rips a CD, which are locked to specific authorized computers (although some of those restrictions may be lifted for ripping–I’m not sure, as I haven’t used it to rip CDs myself). XCP doesn’t want you to authorize any other computers to use the copies you make, though. It doesn’t want those copies to leave the ripping computer ever, at all. So the people who wrote it used DVD Jon’s open-source code for messing with iTunes DRM to make that happen.

In doing so, they created derivative software and kept it closed-source. They did not release it under GPL, violating the terms of the license under which they obtained the code. And they sold it millions of times over.

Here’s the point: this is a massive act of copyright infringement and piracy, on the same scale as the giant duplication rings of Southeast Asia that record labels and movie studios have been trying to stomp out for decades. First4Internet Software, which developed the technology to “stop piracy,” is one of the single biggest software pirates on the planet. Sony BMG paid them millions to be so, and distributed the results.

The Slashdot post I linked above says this comes from the “when-will-it-end dept.” This story is amazing. If we had plotted a fantasy scenario to bring down a record label, we probably couldn’t have come up with anything this good.

I fully expect you to correct this, interweb

I’ve tried and tried, but I cannot find a way to be cynical about the $100 laptop initiative.

Update 1348 hrs: But the interweb can, in “Problems with the $100 laptop” and the reaction from MetaFilter (both via Henry McEuen).

The arguments in the Fonly paper don’t change my stance, though. High saturation would lead to a pretty pathetic gray market, especially when you can eBay an old Compaq laptop (but not a million) for twelve bucks. And no, the requirements haven’t been met yet, and we don’t know what the consequences will be. Of course we don’t know what the consequences will be. That’s called the Law of Unintended Consequences. But we know what the consequences of broadening gaps in education and communication will be, and in this case I’m eager to let the proverbial street find its own uses.

Uh, did I promise to buy somebody a copy of the freely-downloadable Harvey Danger album? I think I did and now I can’t remember to whom.

I’m not very good at this fighting the man thing.

I associate exclusively with overachievers

  • As my mother reports, my sister will be interviewed for an appointment to continue studying at Oxford. My predictions are on target so far! Yay Caitlan!
  • I have been thinking lately of what a little expletive I was from, oh, about ages nine through nineteen; my hyper, piping self-absorption stands in sharp contrast to Sumana’s high school martyr complex, but I still identify strongly with the behavior she describes. I wish my motivation had been as progressive as hers, and I wish I regularly could come up with the kind of beautiful phrasing she uses at the end of the column. (But read the whole thing first, dammit.)

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