Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Man falls into 6-foot septic tank, drowns
: "A 45-year-old western York County man drowned in his septic tank Tuesday in a case the county coroner called one of the most unusual he's ever investigated."

There is nothing funny about this story. When someone asks "what's the worst that could happen?" you should remember this. This is NOT how I want to go.
Florida officials: Some voting records wiped out: "A computer crash erased detailed records from Miami-Dade County's first widespread use of touchscreen voting machines, raising again the specter of election troubles in Florida, where the new technology was supposed to put an end to such problems.

"The crashes occurred in May and November of 2003, erasing information from the September 2002 gubernatorial primaries and other elections, elections officials said Tuesday."

It's a valid concern, but I'm not as worried about the results disappearing after they're certified as I'd be about them disappearing before. Still, it's obvious that new isn't universally better. As we overhaul the voting systems, we will inevitably trade the old problems for new ones. If only the new ones weren't so much more frightening than the old...

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Publisher peeved at political parody.: "TRO believes that the Jibjab creation threatens to corrupt Guthrie's classic -- an icon of Americana -- by tying it to a political joke; upon hearing the music people would think about the yucks, not Guthrie's unifying message. The publisher wants Jibjab to stop distribution of the flash movie.

"Of course the creators behind Jibjab don't agree.

"'We consider it a case of political satire and parody and therefore entitled to the fair use exemption of the copyright act,' said Jibjab attorney Ken Hertz."

This would be funny enough to begin with, as this is about the most obvious invocation of satire and parody possible, but it gets better. To undercut their argument comes Woody himself, with the original copyright notice:

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

Friday, July 23, 2004

Teen's Poem Not a Threat, Justices Rule: "Declaring that school safety and free speech are 'not necessarily antagonistic goals,' the California Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously overturned the felony conviction of a high school student whose violence-laced poem had been deemed a criminal threat."

Thankfully, reason returns.

Even when I was in the military, the importance of free speech was recognized. There were many, many things you couldn't say in the course of your official duties unless someone asked for your opinion. As soon as that happened, you were pretty much free to say whatever you wanted. The military understood order and discipline, but also understood that the right to freely express ones opinions was one of the things we were defending. So as soon as you were asked for an opinion, you could speak freely.

A lot of people have trouble telling fantasy from reality. An overwhelming majority doesn't. This is not the tyranny of the majority, this is the majority apeasing the minority because it's politically incorrect to point out their failings. Finally, the court puts it back on track -- poetry isn't inherently threatening, no matter who feels threatened by it.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

'NOTAG' tags bring flood of tickets: "Jim Cara wanted a vanity license tag that would make people laugh. But when he chose 'NOTAG' for the plate on his Suzuki Hayabusa, a sleek blue and silver motorcycle with a speedometer that reaches 220 mph, the joke backfired.

"The new tag arrived Saturday under an avalanche of Wilmington parking violations. 'All the traffic tickets say, 'Notice of violation. License number: no tag,' ' Cara said. City computers, talking to state Division of Motor Vehicles computers, had finally found an address for ticketed vehicles that lacked license tags: Cara's home in Elsmere.

"'I messed up the system so bad,' Cara said. 'I wonder if they can put me in jail or something?' He has received more than 200 violation notices. The mail carrier came twice on Saturday. Cara opened a few. They ranged from $55 to $125 for violations such as meter expirations."

Computers are stupid. They do what they're told. Sometimes programmers seem the same.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Outage reports spur national security debate: "The Federal Communications Commission believes the public outage reports, required since the early 1990s, have helped to dramatically improve network quality. But the rule applies only to landline companies, an anachronistic loophole in this age of wireless phones and voice service from the cable company. So it would make sense to expand the rule to other communications companies, right? Not so fast.

"The FCC's proposal to make that change has met with strong opposition, not only from phone companies but also from the Department of Homeland Security, which contends that the outage reports could serve as blueprints for terrorists bent on wrecking U.S. communications systems. Homeland Security wants future reports to be filed with one of its own infrastructure-monitoring bodies, the Information Sharing and Analysis Center in the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications, and kept from public analysis. That appears to put Homeland Security at odds with New York City's telecommunications department, the National League of Cities and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, which have endorsed the FCC's plan."

Another instance of secrecy where there need be none. More than any other administration in my memory, the Bush II administration classifies everything it can, and fights any attempts to declassify.

These are publicly licensed and regulated services. We have a right to this information. Could the telcos be reluctant to provide the information, and have they unleashed their lobbyists to head off sensible regulation by the FCC?
Passenger data collection plan dropped: "Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said officials had all but scrapped plans for the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, known as CAPPS II, which has come under criticism from privacy advocates and some members of Congress."

"Asked whether the program could be considered dead, Ridge jokingly gestured as if he were driving a stake through its head and said: 'Yes,' USA Today reported."

Don't bet on it staying dead, but bet on it coming back with a different name. For now, it appears they'll concentrate on the opt-in frequent traveller program.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Scientists horrified by Bush's Bad Science: "The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), in a new report, has again expressed its feeling of 'embarrassment and disgust' over the way the Bush administration uses - or misuses - science when making policy decisions. The scientists have found that the administration often ignores the recommendations of advisory panels and 'suppresses, distorts and manipulates' scientific work. In particular, the group is concerned about Bad Science affecting environment, emergency contraception and endangered species policies.

"UCS issued a previous complaint in February with 62 signatures but has amassed over 4,000 signatures for its latest report released this month. The signers include 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science recipients and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences."

Friday, July 02, 2004

Paranoia Goes Better With Coke: "There's a new security threat at some of the nation's military bases -- and it looks uncannily like a can of Coke. Specially rigged Coke cans, part of a summer promotion, contain cell phones and global positioning chips. That has officials at some installations worried the cans could be used to eavesdrop, and they are instituting protective measures."

Let's turn this around. Pack a hidden gps-enabled transmitter in a beverage container and smuggle them onto military bases hidden among other cans of soda.

Wait a minute. The US Government (not to mention many corporations) have facilities that don't officially exist, aren't open to the public, and aren't shown on any map. Most of these handle highly classified material. In many, mere possession of a cell phone or gps locator could get you arrested, or worse. A bevy of coke-heads converging on a covert location to offer some PFC a prize might just as easily get themselves shot.

It's a clever gimick, but also a security risk.
Florida Told to Open Voter List: "In the lawsuit, the state cited a 2001 law that protects the state's Central Voter Database from being copied. State lawmakers said the list should not be public because it would violate the state constitution's privacy clause.

But [Judge Nikki] Clark said that law was unconstitutional, and the Florida Legislature illegally passed the 2001 statute without showing any public benefit.

'The court cannot and will not speculate what the public necessity might be, nor can the court construe or imply the public necessity from the language of the statute itself,' Clark wrote. "

Thursday, July 01, 2004

This rooster is no chicken: "No one is quite sure how the bird got the cockamamie idea to set up residence outside a place adorned with 'Eat Mor Chickin' signs."

"The rooster declined to comment."