Monday Sep 13, 2004

Election fears

My greatest fear for the upcoming election (besides the fear that "W" will be re-elected), is the inevitable flood of lawsuits that will be filed regardless of who wins. Having the supreme court step in again and "choose" our new president sets and awful and dangerous precedent for future elections (perhaps its already too late since it happened once already). Unfortunately, depending on either of the 2 parties to accept the results with class and dignity in the face of defeat is unrealistic in todays highly charged climate.

It was amusing (for a while, anyway) back in 1992 when Clinton defeated Bush #1 to see all those stupid "Don't blame me - I voted for Bush" bumper stickers. Does anyone remember those? People simply couldn't accept the fact that their man had been soundly beaten and that (wonder of wonders), the presidency is not the birthright of the Republican party - 12 years of Reagan/Bush was plenty and the country wanted/needed a new direction. Of course, there was the follow-up bumper stickers that said "Bush lost - Get over it!" - also amusing. The difference between then and now is that today, people will claim some sort of criminal act has occurred if their man doesn't win.

My hope is that every state has a clear-cut winner and that we don't have any states that are "too-close-to-call", leaving them open for endless legal challenges and yet another supreme court battle.

Monday Aug 23, 2004

Patents gone wild

There has been much discussion (and the usual gnashing-of-teeth) recently over the recent patent by Microsoft for a "process configured to run under an administrative privilege level". While I have not actually read the patent (reasons explained below), it seems like an obvious case where there was plenty of prior-art and that this patent is completely bogus.

The popular sudo utility has been around since 1980 (according to their brief history ). Solaris has had the "RBAC" system for several years and I'm sure there are other examples of eerily similar projects in existence long before MS thought to patent the idea. Why does the USPTO grant patents like this? It boggles the mind.

The MS patent may have originally been intended to cover their LSA system, extensively used by the Windows 2000 (XP, 2003, etc etc) system to manage privileges and delegation among users and processes in the Win2K environment. However, as it seems to be worded (or so I've read from other sources) it is very broad and could be considered to cover sudo and RBAC as well.

Why haven't I actually read the patent, you ask? Because US Patent law actually discourages one from investigating such things. If one actually reads a patent, then that person becomes liable for triple damages if they are found to be infringing. Conventional wisdom is that its better to be ignorant and thus not entirely culpable than to be well informed and thus be held to a higher standard in court. So, if you are a software engineer with a cool idea, its best to not even try to see if there is a patent on it. Its better to claim ignorance than to be found guilty of willfully violating someone elses patent.

So, the USPTO, being a typically understaffed and under-budgeted department, happily grants patents for just about anything and leaves it to the courts to decide if they are really worthy or not. This gives big corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and even Sun good reason to try and patent everything possible, even if they don't ever try to enforce those patents. There is little downside or penalty even if they are found to have patented something that is prior art. They can fight it out in court if there is a major discrepancy, which usually means the side that can afford the biggest and best team of lawyers will eventually win, mostly because the little guy with the so-called prior art doesn't have the resources to fight it.

The patent system is clearly broken, at least from the perspective of a software engineer and the sad thing is that its unlikely to improve in the current fiscal environment. A government that has turned a 100 billion dollar budgeet surplus in a half-TRILLIAN dollar deficit can hardly be expected to properly fund something like this.

\*sigh\*, maybe I should just take off my tinfoil hat and join the collective...

Friday Aug 20, 2004

Football!

I love Football. American Football. The N-F-L. Sorry to my non-American readers, I'm not talking about "football" (a.k.a SOCCER).

The 2004/2005 NFL season is kicking off in just a couple of weeks, and I'm hoping my team (Pitt Steelers) does a bit better this year than last (an ugly, uninspired 6 wins and 10 losses). At least in the beginning of the season everyone is on equal footing, 0-0, a clean slate.

For other football fanatics like myself, I highly recommend Gregg Easterbrook's weekly "TMQB" (Tuesday Morning Quarterback) column. It's a very unique look at football and offers lots of interesting stats and amusing side-stories.

Wednesday Aug 18, 2004

Shanghai Photos

Someone else posted photo's from Shanghai Sunnetwork, so I decided to share mine as well. Check it out: Sunnetwork Shanghai .

Monday Jul 26, 2004

Golf anyone?

I'm preparing for a few days of golf and relaxation later this week. Not that Im any good at golf, mind you. I will happily shoot 95+ ( which is a big improvement from my early days). I don't expect SCOTT to be calling me anytime soon to round out a foursome at Pebblebeach (but he knows how to find me, I'm in the company directory).

So, anyway, I'll be in sunny (and H-O-T) Florida for a few days with a field of 64 other hackers (and a few scratch players as well) for our annual "Living Legends" tournament at the PGA Reserve in Port St. Lucie.

Friday Jul 23, 2004

Telecommuting - part 2

Today I am experiencing the ugly downside of telecommuting - my cable modem is not working (Thanks, Adelphia ). Sometimes it comes back after an hour or two, other times it stays off for a day or more. Today seems like one of the longer outages.

Calling customer support is useless, they usually don't have a clue and will schedule a technician to come out in like a week. When the service comes back (usually within 12 hours), I always forget to call back and cancel my service visit.

So, the guy shows up about a week later and I send him away. I imagine the Adelphia powerlink field technicians spend 50% of their time travelling to homes that don't need their help anymore.

So, anyway, if the broadband connection goes down, I have to hump my bag and travel to the nearest office for a while.

Thursday Jul 22, 2004

Telecommuting for Sun

Sun is cool because....
They have an excellent program for allowing their workers to work from home, full-time.

I've been a full-time work-from-home person since I started here in October 2000. At first it was difficult getting a good (fast) connection into the network because my neighborhood doesn't get decent DSL and cable-broadband was not yet available. Sun hooked me up with a private ISDN line until I was able to get something better (and ALOT cheaper). Once the connection issues were sorted out, everything fell into place.

There are just so many benefits (and only a few drawbacks) to working from home. Allow me to enumerate a few here:

  • No Traffic - living here in the Wash DC metro area, traffic is a HUGE problem. Not for me, though. I come downstairs in the AM and my office is literally just a couple of steps away.
  • Flexibility - working from home affords one some flexibility in work hours. If I have to take my child somewhere or go to an appointment, I know my work is right there when I get home and I can easily make up the lost time at night or at any odd hour I choose.
  • Family Time - I'm now able to attend school functions and after-school activities because I don't have to fight traffic and take a ton of time away from the office to do it. Little league games and other extra-curriculars are now much easier to attend.
  • Productivity - I often find that I put in more hours working from home than I would if all of my stuff was in an office miles away because I can always pop onto the computer whenever I feel the urge or get an idea. No more putting in long hours in an office long after everyone has gone home. I can be here, put my child to bed at night and get back to the work without ever leaving the house.

Downsides - not many. I do miss working directly with people in face-to-face meetings and having lunch with peers to discuss issues. Though, one has to try hard to communicate via email and phone calls in order to "stay connected".

I can't catch up!

I'm 6000 hits behind the last entry on the "top 50" list. How can I make up the difference? Lots of posts? Cross linking from a porno site :) ? Hmmmm, I'm wondering about the rankings here and how to get a boost.

Here's a thought - maybe I should post something that is actually interesting.... Nah

Wednesday Jul 21, 2004

fonts too small?

Does anyone else find the fonts that some of the blogs are using is just way too small? These days most people are working on fairly large monitors (17" and up), I believe. 8 or 9 pt fonts are just too darn hard to read on my screen (1280x1024). The CSS sheets for the blog pages typically specify pretty tiny fonts, I've been trying to tweak mine so they aren't so small.

I've recently been learning about CSS (cascading style sheets) and how they are used. The "old" days, a basic web page was just a bunch of HTML files and images. These days, its all about CSS and javascript and other non-HTML stuff. \*SIGH\* the learning curve just keeps growing.

Monday Jul 19, 2004

Golf and Programming

I played golf twice this past weekend - not terribly well, but it was fun and the weather was great here in Virginia.
So, I was wondering, how is Golf like programming ?

  • Plan your strategy - In both, you must plan your strategy before "teeing off". As a programmer, it is very helpful to have at least a minimal plan or design in place before writing some code. It saves work in the long run and avoids costly re-writes and redesigns midway through the job. In Golf, you should evaluate each hole layout before teeing off so you know what club to use. You should have an image in your mind about the shot you want to make, it's never good to just hack it around without at least some preliminary planning.
  • Don't Rush It - Don't rush your shots in golf, take your time and make a smooth swing. Don't rush your code, let it develop naturally and don't cut corners.
  • Use the right tools - Some golfers are addicted to the equipment, always upgrading to the latest/greatest technology and trying to gain an edge with $$ and technology. This is usually not a successful strategy. Its always better to use the "right" tools for the job, sometimes sticking with your trusty old driver and putter is better than getting the shiny new model from the store. In programming, having a great set of tools for the job and knowing how to properly apply them often improves your productivity. However, sometimes the shiny new technology just distracts you from the core task and decreases your overall productivity by taking your attention away from the code that is being produced.

Wednesday Jul 14, 2004

Online Photo Albums

So, I've recently been trying to organize my digital photo collection. Since buying a decent digital camera last year (Nikon 5700 ), I've taken alot ( > 1500 ) pictures. I needed/wanted a way to display them for family and friends. I found a great JAVA program that makes it very easy to create an online photo album - JAlbum - Its FREE and it is very configurable. I'm very pleased with the results.

So, as a thank you to the developer, this is my free plug for JAlbum - check it out, its very easy to use and makes very nice looking web pages.

As an example, here is a link to one of my online photo albums - from the Seoul Korea in March 2004 - Seoul Photos .

Friday Jun 25, 2004

Beer Fest - Northern VA

I just had to add this plug for those in the Northern Virginia/Wash DC area.

The Old Dominion Beer Festival is happening this weekend (June 25, 26, 27). If you appreciate GOOD beer (and music and food), its definitely worth the price of admission.

Friday Jun 18, 2004

More DRM discussion

There is a discussion on this very same disk today on slashdot . Lots of discussion on how the SunnComm DRM affects non-Windows systems (bottom line - it doesn't, non Windows users are free to copy and rip all they want).

DRM Security

My first post... This is loosely related to security, but also falls into the "Music" category.

I bought a new CD yesterday - Velvet Revolver (I'm a sucker for 80's hard rock/metal). It just so happens that this CD has the SunnComm DRM technology that \*tries\* to prevent you from doing bad things like burn copies for your car/office/computer, rip MP3s for your iPod, et etc. Needless to say, I took this as a challenge and as a personal insult. I don't use Kazaa or any other file sharing, but I do rip almost everything I have into my iPod for use on the road (plus, its alot more convenient than carrying a ton of CDs around).

I don't care to buy a full CD of music from the iTunes music store - the quality is not as good (128 bit AAC, not so great, I prefer 224 kpbs or higher) and you don't get album art, liner notes, and all the other things you get when you actually purchase a CD in a store. I don't mind sampling a single now and then from iTMS, but I refuse to buy a full album.

So, I put the CD in my home computer (Windows 2000, ugh, my wife insists on using AOL, so there is no hope of moving to JDS or some other non-Windows platform for home use). I was immediately prompted to accept some sort of license. I said "No thanks".

Eject CD. Re-insert CD while holding down SHIFT key. Ahhh -much better, no more stupid license to accept. Next step - try to rip songs with iTunes. It starts and seems to find everything OK. Play first song ripped - uh oh, it sounds like crap, lots of skipping and garbling. Hmmmm....

Next step - google for SunnComm copy protection and figure out how to get around this. Find J. Alex Halderman's excellent paper to see how to do it right. Basically, I had to disable a sneaky device driver that they slipped into my system. Despite the fact that I said "No thanks" to their licensing prompt, they still stuck a new driver on my system that made it hard to copy. Not very nice.

I also tried to grab the songs from Solaris using "cdrw -x -T wav 1 song1.wav", but this just ended up grabbing all of the audio (ungarbled, though) and sticking it into a single wav file. I think that is a bug, it should have just grabbed the first track.

I fear this will become the new trend. If record companies (BMG, in this case) are becoming bolder in rolling out DRM technology, so beware and be careful. Luckily, they haven't yet figured out that its a waste of time and money because someone will almost certainly break whatever DRM they add.

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