Tuesday Apr 05, 2011

New Post

I am just doing a quick post to my blog. 

Monday Dec 01, 2008

On authors having a right to unpublish

Ted posed an ethical question about the use of an unauthorized ebook edition of an out-of-print work.

(IMHO fair use includes a right to convert a work legitimately owned into a form that can be conveniently used by the owner of the copy.  In his poll: I think all of options 1, 2, and 3 are ethical.  5 is clearly not ethical.  And 4 is just silly).

In the ensuing discussion some people have posited that there's some sort of inherent right of authors to unpublish a published work.  IMHO that's nonsense.  Publication is (or ought to be) irreversible, and the irreversibility is a feature which contributes to the right of authors to say controversial things.  Once you publish something, it's out there; your words have a life of their own, and nobody can pressure you to take them back because you have no ability to take them all back.

There's already enough of a problem with libel tourism.  It would be far worse if a court could force you to exercise a right to unpublish.

Friday Jul 11, 2008

A testimonial about DVRupgrade.com

DVRupgrade has shown no respect for my right to be left alone.

I purchased a product from DVRupgrade.  I received it.

But against my implicit wishes and without any explicit informed consent they also subscribed me to their newsletter.  After I unsubscribed, they then hounded me via additional email to provide a testimonal about my experience.

So, here you have it.  I wanted a product, not an ongoing relationship (and certainly not additional swill in my inbox). 

I recommend that you buy your tivo upgrades from someone else instead. 

(Just for the record, I want them to conform to best practices for customer email address handling: don't subscribe me to mailing lists I didn't ask to join, don't make me unsubscribe from lists I never wanted to be on, don't keep pestering me after I unsubscribe, and don't keep pestering me with insincere apologies after I complain about being pestered).

Friday Jun 13, 2008

On respecting other people's privacy preferences

So, one of the things I've chosen to opt out of in life are "social networking" sites -- linkedin, orkut, facebook, evite, etc.  I don't trust them.  It doesn't entirely matter why.   I just don't trust them -- please don't waste your time trying to convince me that they're ok. 

And if the only way I can get invited to parties is to accept email from evite, I'll happily stay home by myself.

Unfortunately, a fair number of people (typically those who don't know me very well) think that just because they
think a site has an OK privacy policy, everyone agrees that the site is trustworthy and thus it's OK for them to give my email address to the site without checking with me first. 

I really don't understand this -- in my mind, it's horribly rude to give my contact information out to a commercial third party without asking me about it first.  And I don't really put much stake in official privacy policies - if they don't owe me anything, they have no incentive to prevent my email address from being leaked to spammers, identity thieves, and similar pond scum.

So, if you want to get in touch with me, do so directly using your own email account or phone.  Don't indirect through sites like orkut, evite, linkedin, etc.; I generally route mail from such sites directly to /dev/null because it annoys me.

And if you want to be respectful of others, don't assume that they have the same privacy preferences as you -- check with them before you give their email addresses to third parties, no matter how wonderful and saintly you think those services are.  They might not trust the service.  They might have another email address that they'd rather use with the service.  Just take the time to ask individually first!

Friday May 09, 2008

Nice review of OpenOffice..

A few good words for OpenOffice from the Instapundit..


Tuesday Jan 29, 2008

In Memory of Greg McMullan, 1963-2008

I was stunned to get email Sunday morning informing me that Greg McMullan had died in a house fire.  

Greg wasn't a close friend -- just someone I crossed paths with now and then, starting when I was a confused and clueless froshling at MIT.  He sticks in my memory as a very friendly, approachable and helpful person who could be relied on to give good advice and make me (and many others) feel at home in the high pressure environment of MIT.

I ran into him again perhaps ten or eleven years ago when he was showing off his new toy -- the first generation Palm Pilot.  I was sold almost immediately.

And I vaguely recall running into him when I was in a orchestra accompanying a large-scale choral work; he would have been singing, I had my trombone.. but for the life of me I can't remember what groups were involved or what piece we were doing.

Others have written far more about him; his brother's Live Journal page is probably the best starting point.

Monday Dec 10, 2007

configuring dhcp for almost-seamless use of nwam

When I use my laptop at home at my desk, I usually have it plugged in to a port replicator.  I have wireless but I need to plug in for power anyway.

I finally got around to setting up the laptop to use the nwam phase 0 package to provide nearly seamless migration between wireless and wired network.  The trick turned out to be to set CLIENT_ID in /etc/default/dhcpagent to the client id used by the wired interface -- 0x01 followed by the six-byte ethernet address.  I suppose using the wireless interface's mac address would also work, but it's not soldered to the motherboard and might end up migrating to another laptop later..

When I undock to use the laptop in a different part of the house, nwam brings up the wireless and uses the same client ID with the wireless interface, and the DHCP server gives it the same address.  There's a brief period of about 4 seconds when bits don't move, but no manual intervention (aside from the physical act of plugging/unplugging) is necessary. 

And when I bring the laptop back to my desk and plug it in, the reverse transition is also automatic. 

Very slick!

Monday Nov 26, 2007

If you think it's too good to be true, it is.

So, I signed up for FiOS TV a week ago.  They promised an install date of today, which I thought was a little fast.

Turns out I was right. 

The installer shows up, looks around, and says that some outside wiring prep work that should have happened didn't.  What's worse, the outside wiring folk apparently closed their install ticket saying "all set" when there is no evidence that there actually is an available tap in the cable anywhere near my house (the installers spent a bunch of time staring up at the poles and wiring before concluding that "construction" needed to be called to make a tap available).

Wednesday Nov 07, 2007

I'm surprised the complaint didn't include "failed to repair godzilla crush damage"

and "causes vertigo in blind people" (no, really!).  I hope we get an injunction barring Gehry from making sandwiches.

(MIT sues Gehry over Stata Center) 

Friday Nov 02, 2007

Accusations of "stop energy" are "stop energy"

So, there's this hot new newage-y (I think that rhymes with sewage-y) concept being bantered about by certain people called "Stop Energy".   It seems that it's been used primarily as a non-rebuttal rebuttal to project review comments that the reviewee would rather not deal with.

Many desireable properties of large systems are not localized to any one part of the system.  Security is a key example, but performance and availability are others.  Senior engineers in organizations which produce such systems often have an obsessive-compulsive streak -- because they have to.  In order to preserve or enhance that property, you need to get all the details right, and this often results in long list of "stuff you got wrong" coming from reviewers.  It's easy to misread this as a message to just give up.

But it seems that the new thing is to instead accuse the reviewer of applying Stop Energy to the project. 

Based on what appears to be the canonical definition, it occurs to me that these accusations of "Stop Energy" are .. an exertion of Stop Energy against the reviewer.  The reviewer actually is trying to help, it's just that there's a breakdown of communication such that constructive criticism is interpreted as an attempt at stonewalling.  So, the frustrated reviewee counter-stonewalls, perhaps with this accusation.

A more constructive response is to honestly ask "okay, so what should I do?".  And then listen, and change your proposal accordingly.  Maybe the requirement you just learned about overlaps with your requirements in such a way to produce a null solution set, so maybe you need to go back and adjust your requirements.

 UPDATE: Perhaps I should have been clearer.   My non-snarky view is that "Stop Energy", if it exists, only exists in the mind of the person who stops in response to criticism.  In a large project there isn't a single frame of reference in which you can declare some action unambiguously as "forward progress".   Reviewers often point out things where, in certain frames of reference, a proposed change is a big (or small) step backwards.  In the large, those reviewers are themselves charged with (say) improving the overall security of the system; and in that scope, one or more proposals that introduce more insecurity form a barrier to progress.  Reviewees often hear the "no, don't do it that way" part of the message and then tune out and fail to get the message about the requirement they overlooked and cause the subsequent conversation about alternatives to fail.  And as a result a message intended by its speaker as "do it a little differently" is received as "don't do it at all".

Wednesday Feb 07, 2007

When a favorite restaurant closes

Valerie asks what she can do about a favorite restaurant which has lost its lease and will most likely need to move.

Don't Panic.

A while ago (must be over a decade ago by now), the canonical Chinese restaurant at the MIT end of Cambridge, Mary Chung's, lost its lease and was shut down for about a year before they found new space on the other side of Massachusetts Avenue. Mary's was open every day but Tuesday, though she took an annual one-week summer vacation (which was known as "the week of Tuesdays" to some of her regular patrons).

The Year of Tuesdays was painful for some but they came back from it stronger than ever in a better, larger space. Recently they were even one of the five Boston-area restaurants featured in an episode of The Hungry Detective on the Food Network.

There's not a heck of a lot you can do unless you've got connections in the commercial real estate arena, but there are a few things which come to mind:

  • Keep patronizing them until the bitter end.
  • Stay in touch with the proprieter during the shutdown period (easier with FdM than it was with Mary's since they have the secondary location).
  • Most likely there will be some amount of town-level zoning/licensing involved in the move. Generally the only people who comment on such matters are concerned abutters; statements in support of the applicants from satisfied customers will typically make a big impression on the licensing authority.

Tuesday Feb 06, 2007

Signs the DRM house of cards is collapsing.

I'm happy to see Steve Jobs' open letter to the music industry where he calls for the end of DRM on downloadable music. I'm happy to say that I have on the order of 5200 tracks on my ipod, none of which were purchased from iTunes. I have a legitimate fair-use right to all of them. The vast majority were ripped from CD's I own and which I still possess. Some of the rest are podcasts (offered freely to all); some were mp3's of performances I participated in. None were downloaded from file sharing services. Steve's open letter refers to "secrets" being the key to security. General principles of cryptography say that in secure systems, the only secrets should be changeable and limited in scope. The nature of DRM is such that you'll typically end up with the same set of secrets in every device/player which needs access to the plaintext content, which is what led to the collapse of the DVD CSS scheme and its followons for HD DVD's. Time after time people learn the hard way that you can't effectively hide secrets in binary object code -- given enough time and digging it will be possible to dig any keys and algorithms out of the blob of code.

Monday Nov 20, 2006

if you thought lost bombs were bad, consider lost mustard gas..

In an analogy to the "Windows Genuine Advantage" program, Simon Phipps mentioned the recent discovery of explosives underneath a British airfield, and draws an analogy to anti-piracy "kill switches" embedded in software. While not directly analagous to a "kill switch", a couple years ago I heard of a somewhat more astonishing case of leftover lurking horrors: in 1993, World War I-era mustard gas shells were discovered in what is now an affluent residential neighborhood of Washington, DC in 1993. As of this summer, the cleanup was still in progress.

Returning to the real target : I share Tim Bray's concerns. License enforcement by intentional denial of service has no business going into mission-critical software; we have a hard enough time coping with denial of service from unintentionally introduced "features".

Thursday Sep 29, 2005

And something resembling a root cause analysis.

The Prius saga continues. Toyota sent the NHTSA a complete reply on August 26th.

The meat is in Responses 8 and 12.  It appears that Toyota released a patch in October 2004 which fixed a firmware bug - apparently the stall occurred when the firmware thought the engine wasn't taking in enough air, but the "not enough air" threshold was set too high.  Some of the details are in attachments that were not made public, but it's now clear that they're confident they understand the cause of the stall:

"Under certain circumstances, the engine ECM incorrectly determines that the gas engine is experiencing a failure to start when the engine intake air volume is lower than the ECM's programming criteria.  In this condition, the gasoline engine will not start (because the ECM believes it cannot) and the vehicle will go into a fail-safe mode of electric-only operation.  In conjunction with the ECM misjudgement, the warning lights ... will be illuminated when this occurs."

and there are two relevant fixes.  The first one was released as part of "Special Service Campaign 40A" in October 2003:

"Due to a programming error, if the vehicle is restarted in the "fail-safe" mode, a secondary condition may occur where the vehicle transmission may not operate smoothly."

Subsequently, they released TSB EG047-04:

 "Toyota discovered a software error within the engine intake air volume criteria ... Toyota developed a revised software version and introduced this software along with reprogramming methodology in a TSB in the middle of October 2004"

What's perhaps a bit strange is that the first bug and a third unrelated (and seemingly trivial) defect were the subject of two different "special service campaigns" where they actively asjed customers to bring in their cars for a firmware upgrade, but the seemingly more critical bug (the apparent proximate cause of the stalls) is only subject to a TSB, which appears to be a "fix it if the customer complains" reactive patch.  If I buy a Prius I guess I'll feel obligated to check for TSB's on a regular basis...

Tuesday Sep 06, 2005

How not to sell me a firmware-driven product...

Well, start off your sales pitch by describing how easy it is to reboot the product, and by talking about how I can avoid trips to the repair shop by rebooting it.

I was pretty close to being willing to put down a deposit on a Prius to replace my Saturn, but now I'm off doing a "due diligence" of a sort.  What I've learned so far: there's a software defect which causes the gasoline engine to shut off which may have been fixed in a firmware upgrade.  The NHTSA's Office for Defect Investigation is on the case (investigation PE05029)  but hasn't yet released a final report.  Some of the documents filed by Toyota in response to the ODI's request for investigation have been made available, but there's not that much "meat" in the main document of July 22nd-- which promises follow-on updates on August 5th and/or 26th which don't seem to be available from ODI just yet.

One friend of mine who has a Prius has experienced this stall condition, and then had the firmware upgrade which may -- or may not -- fix it.  He hasn't had a stall since the firmware upgrade but, well, anecdotes are not data.

I'm not so much worried that there are bugs in the firmware.   Of \*course\* there will be bugs in any software system of nontrivial complexity.  But are they set up to diagnose and fix defects found in the field by customers?  Instructing customers to "just hit ctrl-alt-del and drive on" doesn't sound consistent with an attitude towards software quality which will get those defects fixed.  I hope this particular sales guy is an outlyer.

Given the limitations of repair shops, perhaps software-controlled cars like the Prius should be equipped to "phone home" with the moral equivalent of a crash dump whenever anything odd happens....




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