.................with apologies to Alistair Cook
Monday, 22 December 2008
Friday, 19 December 2008
dataxtream writes 'The world's first refrigerated beach is to be built at a luxury hotel in Dubai, located along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. The beach will include heat-absorbing pipes under the sand along with large wind blowers, which will keep tourists cool and guard their feet against the hot sand. Half of me says these guys need a reality check, the other half wants to go there.' I believe I've just thought of a way we could solve this whole global warming thing I've been hearing about.
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
What to do now
Now that a European Court has decided that the retention of the DNA of innocent people is illegal - what should you do now?
Earlier this month, 17 judges on the Grand Chambers of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled unanimously that the UK is in violation of the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) by retaining the fingerprints, DNA samples and profiles of Messrs S and Marper. Mr S was arrested at the age of 11 and charged with attempted robbery. Mr Michael Marper was arrested and charged with harassment of his partner. Both were arrested in 2001, and both had their fingerprints and DNA samples taken. Later that same year Mr S was acquitted and the case of Mr Marper was formally discontinued, as he and his partner had become reconciled and the charge was not pressed.
The court foundthat the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences, as applied in the case of the present applicants, fails to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests and that the respondent State has overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard. Accordingly, the retention at issue constitutes a disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life and cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society.
Let's look at the consequences of this ruling. What you can you do - as soon as you've finished reading this article - and what is the likely impact on legislation and policies?
Don't delay - delete your DNA today
The ruling clearly affects the retention by England, Wales and Northern Ireland police forces of fingerprints and DNA samples, and derived DNA profiles of both those who have been acquitted and those for which a decision of no further action (NFA) was taken. If you are among the estimated 573,639 to 857,366 innocents whose DNA profile is on the National DNA Database (NDNAD), you should act now. Don't wait until the time the police will have to weed out these records and samples.
Writing to the chief of police
The first step is to write to the chief of police of the force that arrested you. This may seem obvious, but several responses to freedom of information (FOI) requests we sent out as part of the research for this article, before the outcome of the S and Marper UK case was known, reveal that few individuals have gone to the trouble of asking.
At one extreme, the Warwickshire Police force has not received any requests in the last three years even though they contributed 12,263 DNA profiles to the NDNAD in the same period. At the other end of the scale, the Metropolitan Police, which in the past three years has contributed 85,305 DNA profiles, close to a fifth of the DNA profiles added by all English and Welsh forces to the NDNAD, received only 23, 64 and 110 requests for the removal of DNA profiles from the NDNAD, and granted 11, 18 and 21 of these respectively for 2006, 2007 and 2008 (up to the end of November).
Even though the West Midlands Police has in recent years arrested for recorded crimes about a third the number the Met has, it has received a similar number of requests for removal: 58, 49 and 83, and granted 25, 7 and 28 of these respectively for 2006, 2007 and 2008 (to November 21). For forces with fewer arrests such as the Cheshire, Durham or Gwent Constabularies, you can count the number of requests granted, since recording them started, on one hand. Police guidelines (the Retention Guidelines for Nominal Records on the Police National Computer) ensured that received requests to get off the NDNAD were granted only exceptionally. As a consequence of the ruling, the exceptional will have to become the norm.
Several forces do not keep a tally of the requests they receive. For example, the Northamptonshire Police responded to our request for details: "There is no single database holding the information requested. Some information may be held on individual custody records but manual examination would take the request over the cost limit and any results would not be conclusive in any case." One force, the Derbyshire Constabulary decided "As a result of your request [I] have asked the staff who deal with exceptional cases to consider making a record of requests and decisions."
Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, a not-for-profit organisation that monitors developments in genetic technologies from a public interest perspective, which provided expert evidence on behalf of Messrs S and Marper to the ECHR, commented on the ruling: "[This] landmark decision vindicates all those innocent people who have struggled to get their DNA destroyed. It means that there must be strict new rules to limit DNA retention and prevent misuse."
How to write a formal request
Having decided to write to request destruction of your fingerprints and DNA samples, deletion of your DNA profile and deletion or updating of any other database records linking to this information, the next step is to figure out what you should write. You need to include enough information so the police can identify you, the circumstances in which you were arrested (and your fingerprints and DNA samples were taken), details of the NFA decision or of your acquittal, and the reason you are requesting your records to be deleted and your samples to be destroyed.
This initial letter doesn't have to be long but it must be precise otherwise the police won't be able to deal with it. In its FOI response, the Cheshire Constabulary explained that it "receives numerous 'requests' for the removal of DNA, [t]he majority of which could not be considered formal request as when asked why we should consider their request, they simply do not respond or they actually mean something different. We would seek to clarify requests to establish the identity of the requestor and the reasons why they are requesting removal of data. This is well before we can actually consider the merits of a request and whether or not it fits the requirements of the Exceptional Cases procedure."
GeneWatch suggests this as a reason to "[a]sk for them to remove your records and destroy your DNA in the light of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights". You may want to send a copy of the letter to your MP and a copy of any reply to GeneWatch (and let us know how it goes as well).
Another suggestion is that you may also want to argue for the police to remove your records and destroy your DNA samples in "other cases (e.g. cautions, final warnings, spent minor convictions)". Although the ECHR decision only covers people who have not been convicted, it makes clear that an interference with personal informational privacy such as the retention and use of profiles and samples must be indispensable and proportionate with the legitimate aim of the criminal justice system (i.e., the seriousness of the offence).
The Court cannot, however, disregard the fact that, notwithstanding the advantages provided by comprehensive extension of the DNA database, other Contracting States have chosen to set limits on the retention and use of such data with a view to achieving a proper balance with the competing interests of preserving respect for private life... The Court considers that any State claiming a pioneer role [as the UK is] in the development of new technologies bears special responsibility for striking the right balance in this regard.
If you're in a situation where you find this balance has not been achieved, for example the indefinite retention for children given reprimands, then you may also benefit from this ruling.
Taking into account the ECHR ruling, the police are now likely to accept all legitimate requests as they would be in a very weak position if an innocent person were to seek a judicial review in case of refusal. Due to the small number of requests granted prior to the ruling, the actual deletions from the NDNAD and the Police National Computer (PNC) and destruction of samples is a very ad-hoc process. The Met promised a process last year and eventually did publish one (pdf), but it was not worth the wait.
Here's the process they go through: "If the decision to delete has been made, the Exceptional Cases Unit will contact the respective departments and agencies to ensure that the DNA, fingerprints and PNC records are deleted/destroyed accordingly."
The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) realises that "following the judgement last week in the S & Marper case heard at the European Court of Human Rights the DNA sample retention and destruction requirements are being reviewed." At least, once a DNA profile has been deleted from the database, it would appear that these transactions are propagated to all backups in short time:
The NDNAD has both a regular internal and a regular off-site back-up procedure. All transactions carried out on the NDNAD are backed up each working day. The deletion of profiles from the NDNAD would be treated the same as any other NDNAD transaction within this back-up procedure. Any record of a DNA profile will also be removed from all back-up media within 10 days of its deletion from NDNAD.
Until a comprehensive process is published giving stronger confidence in the deletion process, once you get confirmation that your request has been granted you may want to ask to be present when the physical samples are destroyed and electronic data is deleted and updated. If you go for this, ask speedily or possibly even with your request letter, as in my case the deletion process was started before informing me of the decision!
Observing the process by a large number of individuals would be costly in time and money; an easier alternative would be for the labs used by the police to generate DNA profiles from the samples taken from individuals to systemically destroy the DNA samples once a DNA profile has been derived. The DNA samples are not used for identification.
Friday, 12 December 2008
Manufacturing isn't dead - it just went to Mountain View
Google this week admitted that its staff will pick and choose what appears in its search results. It's a historic statement - and nobody has yet grasped its significance.…
(Via The Register.)
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Saturday, 6 December 2008
Filed under: iPhoneHave you ever wondered whether the wifi data you send and receive with your iPhone or iPod touch at the local coffee shop or airport is secure? Well, I bet if you hadn't wondered that before, you are now. It's easy to forget that inside that cute little handheld device live the guts of an actual computer, and likely a lot of personal data. Depending on your surfing habits, you could be sending and receiving personal information in a non-secure way over public wifi.
If you're concerned about your data's safety, consider using Anchorfree's Hotspot Shield free VPN service. Hotspot Shield has been a great way to lock down your laptop's wifi for a long time now, and just recently they have released instructions on how to take advantage of their service on an iPhone / iPod touch. Pleasantly, the service does not require that a program be downloaded to your device, but rather takes advantage of the iPhone and iPod touch's built-in VPN functionality.
My only gripe with Hotspot Shield is that it can sometimes be challenging to get the VPN to successfully connect. Anchorfree recommends performing a quick reboot of your device to get your connection going, but in my experience even that can be a hit-or-miss scenario. But it's still better than letting that creepy guy that keeps hitting on the barista peruse my http requests. 'Cause I'm not paranoid, but I'm sure that's what he's doing.
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Buying video games as holiday gifts can be pretty intimidating when you've got a major deity looking over your shoulder.…"
(Via The Register.)
Monday, 24 November 2008
Interesting experiment testing the theory that signs of visual disorder, such as litter and graffiti, encourage crime and other acts of disorder. (Via Gus Mueller.)
(Via Daring Fireball.)
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Monday, 17 November 2008
"schwit1 sends along an Ars Technica report covering the release of documents obtained under the FOIA suggesting that the Justice Department may have been evading privacy laws in their use of 'triggerfish' technology. Triggerfish are cell-tower spoofing devices that induce cell phones to give up their location and other identifying information, without recourse to any cell carrier. 'Courts in recent years have been raising the evidentiary bar law enforcement agents must meet in order to obtain historical cell phone records that reveal information about a target's location. But documents obtained by civil liberties groups under a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that 'triggerfish' technology can be used to pinpoint cell phones without involving cell phone providers at all. The Justice Department's electronic surveillance manual explicitly suggests that triggerfish may be used to avoid restrictions in statutes like CALEA that bar the use of pen register or trap-and-trace devices...' The article does mention that the Patriot Act contains language that should require a court order to deploy triggerfish, whereas prior to 2001 'the statutory language governing pen register or trap-and-trace orders did not appear to cover location tracking technology.'
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer on Thursday dismissed the Android mobile operating system, saying he believed that building it was financially unsound for Google. […]
He questioned Google’s ability to make money with Android. ‘I don’t really understand their strategy. Maybe somebody else does. If I went to my shareholder meeting, my analyst meeting, and said, ‘Hey, we’ve just launched a new product that has no revenue model!’… I’m not sure that my investors would take that very well. But that’s kind of what Google’s telling their investors about Android,’ he said.
Just like how Google’s search engine has no revenue model. And just like how, according to Ballmer, there was ‘no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.’
(Via Daring Fireball.)
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Hunter S. Thompson, September 1972:
"The pools also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority
of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states.
Well… maybe so. This may be the year when we finally come face to
face with ourselves: finally just lay back and say it — that we
are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all
the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing
anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.
The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his
mistakes and all his imprecise talk about ‘new politics’ and
‘honesty in government’, is one of the few men who’ve run for
President of the United States in this century who really
understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of
the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept
it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.
McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem
almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every
day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect
expression of everything he stands for.
Jesus! Where will it end?"
It ends here, today.
I love this country.
(Via Daring Fireball.)
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
A vote for broadband in the "white spaces": "All eyes are on the presidential election today, but another important vote just took place at the Federal Communications Commission. By a vote of 5-0, the FCC formally agreed to open up the 'white spaces' spectrum -- the unused airwaves between broadcast TV channels -- for wireless broadband service for the public. This is a clear victory for Internet users and anyone who wants good wireless communications.
The FCC has been looking at this issue carefully for the last six years. Google has worked hard on this matter with other tech companies and public interest groups because we think that this spectrum will help put better and faster Internet connections in the hands of the public. We also look forward to working with the FCC to finalize the method used to compute power levels of empty channels adjacent to TV channels (we have a number of public filings before the commission in this area and it is a vital issue in urban areas).
I've always thought that there are a lot of really incredible things that engineers and entrepreneurs can do with this spectrum. We will soon have 'Wi-Fi on steroids,' since these spectrum signals have much longer range than today's Wi-Fi technology and broadband access can be spread using fewer base stations resulting in better coverage at lower cost. And it is wonderful that the FCC has adopted the same successful unlicensed model used for Wi-Fi, which has resulted in a projected 1 billion Wi-Fi chips being produced this year. Now that the FCC has set the rules, I'm sure that we'll see similar growth in products to take advantage of this spectrum.
As an engineer, I was also really gratified to see that the FCC decided to put science over politics. For years the broadcasting lobby and others have tried to spread fear and confusion about this technology, rather than allow the FCC's engineers to simply do their work.
Finally, I want to applaud and thank FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the other commissioners, and the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology for their leadership in advancing this important issue. And, thanks to the more than 20,000 of you who took a stand on this issue through our Free the Airwaves campaign, the FCC heard a clear message from consumers: these airwaves can bring wireless Internet to everyone everywhere.
Posted by Larry Page, Co-Founder and President of Products
(Via Official Google Blog.)
Monday, 3 November 2008
The Economist: ‘It’s Time’: "
Another good example of conservatives making a strong case for electing Obama. Their previous endorsements are rather interesting (e.g. Bill Clinton in 1992 but Bob Dole in 1996).
(Via Daring Fireball.)
Some of the most interesting and thoughtful endorsements for Barack Obama that I’ve seen are those from conservatives. My favorite is this one from Wick Allison, former publisher of The National Review.
Conservatives are skeptical of abstract theories and utopian
schemes, doubtful that government is wiser than its citizens, and
always ready to test any political program against actual results.
Liberalism always seemed to me to be a system of ‘oughts.’ We
ought to do this or that because it’s the right thing to do,
regardless of whether it works or not. It is a doctrine based on
intentions, not results, on feeling good rather than doing good.
But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to
political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax
cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he
refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge
deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt.
Facing this, John McCain pumps his ‘conservative’ credentials by
proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once
fought for limited government has presided over the greatest
growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it
is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.
(Via Daring Fireball.)
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Nuclear fission from Sellotape?
As usual, the excellent Nature production editors nail a story with a succinct one-liner: "How weird is that?".
Very. It turns out that ordinary sticky tape - Sellotape in the UK, Scotch tape in the US, Durex in Australia (well, once upon a time) - emits high energy X-rays when you pull some off the roll. In fact, enough are given off under the right circumstances to form an X-ray image of an experimenter's finger -- although as the right circumstances involve a high grade vacuum, don't send off for the lead codpiece before wrapping your Christmas presents just yet.
But the phenomenon is very real. It's an example of one of my very favourite bits of quotidian weirdness, triboluminescence. This is the habit of some compounds, including sugar, of emitting light when crushed: if you take a Trebor mint and a pair of pliers into a dark room and let your eyes adjust, you can check this for yourself. (I did as a kid and have been a big fan ever since.)
That light is not due to heat or sparks of static electricity, at least not as we normally know it. In fact, nobody's quite sure what happens: the leading theory is that the disruption of molecular bonds results in a sudden localised distribution of positive and negative charges, which snap back into neutrality with a burst of photons. And this makes some sense, given that charges changing speed are the way light comes about.
But X-rays? To make them normally, we have to use tons of energy to accelerate electrons in vacuum to very high velocities and smash them into carefully constructed targets. There are no known low-energy producers, and only the most exotic solid-state emitters.
So finding X-rays streaming out of a 99p roll of sticky tape by the application of thumb and finger is akin to discovering a nest of dragons behind the Pick'n'Mix counter in Woolworths. The researchers were "a little bit scared" when they first realised what was happening - they were checking a Russian report from 1953, which first noted the effect - but have now decided that there's no danger in everyday tape use.
They're now decidedly excited, but comprehensively baffled. Given that nobody quite understands the long-observed sugar crushing experience, this new variation - far removed from anything else in a physicist's experience - is utterly bewildering. But investigations are underway, with an intriguing codicil that the mechanism may be good enough to trigger nuclear fusion.
Gotta love that physics.
Down to the wire on white spaces
10/23/2008 07:17:00 AM
There's more than one important vote going on this Election Day. On November 4, as Americans cast their ballots for President of the United States, the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to be voting on rules governing "white spaces" -- the unused airwaves between broadcast TV channels.
Just as Wi-Fi sparked a revolution in the way we connect to the web, freeing the "white space" airwaves could help unleash a new wave of technological innovation, create jobs, and boost our economy. But it can happen only if the FCC moves forward with rules that make the best possible use of this spectrum.
Last week, after many months of thorough testing, the Commission's engineers announced their conclusion that white spaces devices could operate without interfering with TV broadcasts or wireless microphone signals. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pledged his support for opening "white space" spectrum, and announced that the Commission would vote on the issue on November 4.
Unfortunately, last Friday the broadcasting lobby filed an emergency request to stop the vote from happening. This comes despite more than four years of study, months of extensive lab and field testing by the FCC, and tens of thousands of pages of formal record material -- during which the broadcasters' concerns were fully considered. As we understand it, the draft order carefully and appropriately addresses all legitimate concerns about interference, and the resulting draft rules are, if anything, overly conservative. Nonetheless, the proposed framework overall appears to be sound, and we strongly support it.
While the science should speak for itself, that won't stop the broadcasting lobby from trying to use stalling tactics to derail the technology before the rules of the road are even written. These are the same folks who over the years have sought to block one innovative technology after another, from cable TV to VCRs to satellite TV and radio to low power FM to TiVOs.
The enormous promise of white spaces is simply too great to get bogged down now in politics. We're less than two weeks away from a vote that could transform the way we connect to the Internet.
The time for study and talk is over. The time for action has arrived. But we need your help -- before November 4th.
Two months ago we launched "Free the Airwaves" with a simple message: Americans want better access to broadband, and they see the potential of white spaces to make it happen. If you care about the future of technological innovation, please sign our petition to the FCC at FreeTheAirwaves.com, and ask your friends to do the same.
Posted by Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel
Monday, 20 October 2008
Best write-up I’ve seen regarding John McCain’s history of melanoma and Joe Biden’s brain aneurisms.
Also interesting is to compare Sarah Palin to Ronald Reagan. Regarding Palin:
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, 44, Mr. McCain’s running mate, has released no medical information.
That’s it. Zip. Nada. Not even a one-page summary. Regarding Reagan, back in 1980:
A leading example of openness was Ronald Reagan, whose age, 69, had become an issue in the 1980 election. Mr. Reagan authorized his doctors to be interviewed. He also agreed to an interview himself, against the wishes of his aides, answering all my questions, including what would he do if he became senile as president.
‘Resign,’ he said.
(Via Daring Fireball.)
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Questions are being asked in Jamaica about a police investigation into the theft of hundreds of tons of sand from a beach on the island's north coast.
It was discovered in July that 500 truck-loads had been removed outside a planned resort at Coral Spring beach.
Detectives say people in the tourism sector could be suspects, because a good beach is seen as a valuable asset to hotels on the Caribbean island.
But a lack of arrests made since July have led to criticism of the police.
The beach at Coral Springs, in Jamaica's northern parish of Trelawny, was 400 metres (1300ft) of white sand. The 0.5-hectare strand was to form part a billion-dollar resort complex, but the theft of its most important feature has led to its developers putting their plans on hold.
Illegal sand mining is a problem in Jamaica; the tradition of people building their own homes here means there is a huge demand for the construction material. However, the large volume and the type of sand taken made suspicion point towards the hotel industry.
"There is some suspicion that some police were in collusion with the movers of the sand"
Mark Shields, Deputy Commissioner of Police
The disappearance was deemed so important that the Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, also took an interest in the theft and ordered a report into how 500 truckloads of sand was stolen, transported and presumably sold.
Three months on, and with no arrests or charges in the case, the main opposition People's National Party have suggested that some people now think there has been a cover up.
But the deputy commissioner for crime at the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Mark Shields, insisted this was not an open-and-shut case.
"It's a very complex investigation because it involves so many aspects," he told the BBC.
"You've got the receivers of the stolen sand, or what we believe to be the sand. The trucks themselves, the organisers and, of course, there is some suspicion that some police were in collusion with the movers of the sand."
Police said they were carrying out forensic tests on beaches along the coast to see if any of it matches the stolen sand.
(Via BBC News.)
US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin isn't saying citizens interested in open government can't get access to her emails. She's just saying it will cost a little.
The office of the Alaska governor, which by state law is required to make such messages public, says it could cost more than $15m for anyone conducting an exhaustive search. Even then, Palin - who ran for governor on a platform of running a clean and transparent government - says requests won't be honored until November 17, two weeks after the presidential election is held.
It's fair to say that interest in Palin's email has spiked since Republican presidential nominee John McCain named her as his running mate. Not only has her office been swamped with requests for copies of state records, but her personal Yahoo email account was breached and some of its contents were posted to the Wikileaks site.
The leak offered evidence strongly suggesting that Palin conducted official state business using the very unofficial firstname.lastname@example.org email address. Messages sent to it bore subject headings such as "Draft letter to Governor Schwarzenegger," "Court of Appeals Nominations" and "CONFIDENTIAL Ethics Matter." Critics say her use of the Yahoo account could violate Alaska open records laws that require official communications to be available to members of the public.
An Alaska state judge has ordered Palin to preserve the contents of the account.
The emails Palin's office has valued at $15m were sent by various state employees to her husband, Todd, who is not a state employee. State bean counters say it will cost $960.31 to search each employee's account. If email for all 16,000 employees are processed, the exact figure is $15,364,000.96. They figure it will take 13 hours per email account. That figure doesn't include the cost of the paper. The office will only make the email available in hard copy.
Palin may portray herself as a Washington outsider unversed in the sleights of hand politicians use to keep Joe Six-Pack from seeing what's really going on in government. But in Alaska, she knows how it's done. ®
(Via The Register.)
Friday, 17 October 2008
"The Bee Gees' 1977 falsetto stomper Stayin' Alive could be the latest tool in the fight against people dying, according to a new study.
Bloomberg soberly relays that the slouchy beat of the squealy white-men-big-hair disco evergreen was found to help medical students attain the correct pace for chest compressions. The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria put ten doctors and five med students to the funky test, playing them the mildly irritating but actually kind of awesome track as they practiced CPR on dummies.
The non-mortal coil shuffling tune packs 103 beats a minute, which is almost exactly the number of chest compressions the American Heart Association recommends for successful cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Weeks later, the sawbones in the small study could attain the same rhythm again by playing the disco doozie back to themselves in their heads.
Researcher David Matlock said in a statement that a larger study was needed, but these initial results were promising.
In other news, doctors announce that playing floundering rock-opera whale Bat Out Of Hell - while unsuitable for CPR due to its erratic zooming tempo - produces excellent results in rousing the comatose.
'It appears to be uniquely stimulating,' said a researcher. 'One chap who'd been completely unconscious for some months leapt out of bed and dashed across the room to the tape recorder. Extraordinary.' ®"
(Via The Register.)
Cites impossibility of serving legal papers
A US judge has dismissed a lawsuit against God on the grounds that "a plaintiff must have access to the defendant for a case to proceed", the BBC reports.
Sadly for Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers, who'd sought a permanent injunction to put an end to the Almighty's "death, destruction and terrorisation of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants", Judge Marlon Polk ruled: "Given that this court finds that there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant this action will be dismissed with prejudice."
Chambers, who said he may appeal, argued that the court's acknowledgement of God's existence in turn indicated "a recognition of God's omniscience". He reasoned: "Since God knows everything, God has notice of this lawsuit."
Chambers claimed he filed the lawsuit last year to show that "anyone can sue anyone else, even God". ®
(Via The Register.)
Thursday, 16 October 2008
A timely warning for those of you who spend all your life working in "the cloud" - could your data disappear overnight as a consequence of "implosion" due to the current financial meltdown?
Among the many calamitous events that have marked the current global financial crisis, the U.S. government seized the bank Washington Mutual late last month in what was described as “by far the largest bank failure in American history.” For the generations of people, like me, who grew up thinking of the Great Depression as an historical event — something essentially unrepeatable, like say the Black Plague — it’s something of a shocker that a Depression-style implosion on the scale of WaMu could even take place in the 21st Century.
Dramatic reversals of business fortune are a reminder that the constants of commercialized life (in my view, we’re almost all of us living highly commercialized existences) aren’t quite as untouchable as we thought. The concept of “too big to fail” is under siege at the moment. The fact that a company, product or service is so clearly dominant and relied upon is no guarantee of its survival.
In particular, I make this point in regards to Web applications, cloud computing, putting your data online — whatever you want to call it. Over the past decade, consumers have been relying on Web-hosted services to house their information more and more, and on independent stores of data on their personal computers less and less. Forget PCs even. It’s no secret that vanishingly few people are relying on personally maintained copies of records that exist in the home, like say a checkbook register, too.
Many of you reading this right now probably rely on some form of Web application for your email, spreadsheets, word processing, finances, or even to run your business. And that’s just the productivity side: think for a moment about all of the value you’ve created in the social networks you’ve built on say LinkedIn, or the narratives you’ve weaved on Flickr, or the conversations you’ve had on Facebook, or the journaling you’ve done at Tumblr. It’s almost all online, and very little of it is on your computer.
FAIR WEATHER FINANCES
In optimistic financial climates, trusting the cloud seems like a fine idea. The fact that many small businesses store their mission critical project information in a tool like Basecamp makes a lot of sense because the good folks at 37signals have demonstrated themselves to be reliable and trustworthy keepers of that data, even as (or especially as) their business has grown exponentially. Consumers who manage their personal finances through a tool like Mint are reassured by the strong venture backing and public support standing behind those startups. And if you do anything using Google Docs, there’s good reason to feel secure too — their size and future seem soundly protected.
Just consider a moment though: today’s market capitalization for Google stands at the robust figure of US$107 billion, which few would argue qualifies as ginormous. On the other hand, at the time of its failure, WaMu was said to have US$307 billion worth of assets on its books. And still the bank collapsed.
In my view, it’s a given that some of these Web businesses will fail. Personally, I doubt it will be Google, but after watching trillions of dollars of wealth vanish in the market over the past several weeks, I tend to doubt Google’s potential for implosion a little less today than I did six months ago. As for smaller players, who knows if they will survive or not? The size of a company is certainly not a reliable shield against failure, but being small doesn’t necessarily guarantee a company will be around in the long term, either. I just don’t think that it’s realistic to assume that all of the data we’re storing online is safe. So a friendly reminder: back up.
MAKE NOTE OF THE EXITS
Rather than just coming off as an alarmist, I want to add a few constructive comments to this dire warning. Part of this situation has very much to do with software architecture: these applications should be designed to allow users to mirror their data on their personal computers, ideally in open formats. I’m not just talking about an option to export one’s data to an archive file, though, but rather about true, seamless mirroring. For instance, I pay a company to store my mail on the cloud, ostensibly, but I have no more or less trust in their longevity than I do in any other online business. Through the underestimated miracle and beauty of IMAP though, all of my messages are also mirrored on my hard drive, an invaluable insurance policy against the sudden disappearance of my mail server or host provider. To me, the IMAP approach is really the ideal approach, and I really wish it was a model for more Web services.
My other idea for mitigating cloud computing risk is a little touchier and will undoubtedly raise some hackles, so I’m just going to come out and speak its dirty name: government regulation. Part of the reason that WaMu’s failure didn’t ignite a run on the bank (or indeed, on all banks) is the (hopefully) concrete reality of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. For most intents and purposes, the money in WaMu customers’ accounts was protected by the U.S. government — not just by the fact that it was insured, but also by the fact that, in order to qualify for the insurance, WaMu had to follow certain regulations in its management of money.
Data is almost as good as money, but I don’t know of a single consumer Web application where access to data is guaranteed by a third-party private entity, much less by the government. By no means am I begging for government regulation; doing so has the potential to undo the innovation equation that defines the digital age. Personally it’s my view that that way lies madness. But so too does the path of inevitable failure that we’re on. Essentially, as consumers of cloud computing, we have virtually zero recourse, to say nothing of insurance. It’s something we should be thinking about and talking about more explicitly as we continue to move more and more of our lives online.
(Via Daring Fireball.)
A Spanish judge has launched a criminal investigation into the fate of tens of thousands of people who vanished during the civil war and Franco dictatorship.
Judge Baltasar Garzon - Spain's top investigating judge - has also ordered several mass graves to be opened.
One is believed to contain the remains of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by fascist forces at the start of the war in the 1930s.
Correspondents say the move will be controversial in Spain.
They say there has been a tacit agreement among political parties not to delve too deeply into the civil war and Franco era.
In his ruling, Judge Garzon said forced disappearances were crimes against humanity and had not expired.
He said that he wanted to identify the leaders of the Spanish Falange fascist movement from July 1936 to December 1951, and that those still alive could face prosecution.
(Via BBC News.)
It seems not that long ago that I posted this entry but it's been 10 years since Jon Postel died.
Here's Google' take on it:
Remembering Jon Postel: Looking beyond the decade: "A decade has passed since Jon Postel left our midst. It seems timely to look back beyond that decade and to look forward beyond a decade hence. It seems ironic that a man who took special joy in natural surroundings, who hiked the Muir Trail and spent precious time in the high Sierras was also deeply involved in that most artificial of enterprises, the Internet. As the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and the RFC editor, Jon could hardly have chosen more polar interests. Perhaps the business of the artificial world was precisely what stimulated his interest in the natural one.
As a graduate student at UCLA in the late 1960s, Jon was deeply involved in the ARPANET project, becoming the first custodian of the Request for Comment note series inaugurated by Stephen D. Crocker. He also undertook to serve as the ‘Numbers Czar’ tracking Domain Names, Internet Addresses, and all the parameters, numeric and otherwise, that were key to the successful functioning of the burgeoning ARPANET and, later, Internet protocols. His career took him to the east and west coasts of the United States but ultimately led him to the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) where he joined his colleagues, Danny Cohen, Joyce K. Reynolds, Daniel Lynch, Paul Mockapetris and Robert Braden, among many others, who were themselves to play important roles in the evolution of the Internet.
It was at ISI that Jon served longest and as the end of the 20th century approached, began to fashion an institutional home for the work he had so passionately and effectively carried out in support of the Internet. In consultation with many colleagues but particularly with Joseph Sims of the Jones Day law firm and Ira Magaziner, then with the Clinton administration at the White House, Jon worked to design an institution to assume the IANA responsibilities. Although the path to its creation was rocky, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was officially created in early October, 1998, just two weeks before Jon’s untimely death on October 16.
In 1998 there were an estimated 30 million computers on the Internet and an estimated 70 million users. In the ensuing decade, the user population has grown to almost 1.5 billion and the number of servers on the Internet now exceeds 500 million (not counting episodically connected laptops, personal digital assistants and other such devices). As this decade comes to a close, the Domain Name System is undergoing a major change to accommodate the use of non-Latin character sets in recognition that the world’s languages are not exclusively expressible in one script. A tidal wave of newly Internet-enabled devices as well as the increasing penetration of Internet access in the world’s population is consuming what remains of the current IPv4 address space, driving the need to adopt the much larger IPv6 address space in parallel with the older one. Over three billion mobiles are in use and roughly 15% of these are already Internet-enabled.
Jon would take considerable satisfaction knowing that the institution he worked hard to create has survived and contributed materially to the stability of the Internet. Not only has ICANN managed to meet the serious demands of Internet growth and importance in all aspects of society, but it has become a worked example of a new kind of international body that embraces and perhaps even defines a multi-stakeholder model of policy making. Governments, civil society, the private sector and the technical community are accommodated in the ICANN policy development process. By no means a perfect and frictionless process, it nonetheless has managed to take decisions and to adapt to the changing demands and new business developments rooted in the spread of the Internet around the globe.
Always a strong believer in the open and bottom-up style of the Internet, Jon would also be pleased to see that the management of the Internet address space has become regionalized and that there are now five Regional Internet Registries cooperating on global policy and serving and adapting to regional needs as they evolve. He would be equally relieved to find that the loose collaboration of DNS root zone operators has withstood the test of time and the demands of a hugely larger Internet, showing that their commitment has served the Internet community well.
As the very first individual member of the Internet Society he helped to found in 1992, Jon would certainly be pleased that it has become a key contributor to the support of the Internet protocol standards process, as intended. The Internet Architecture Board and Internet Engineering and Research Task Forces as well as the RFC editing functions all receive substantial support from the Internet Society. He might be surprised and pleased to discover that much of this support is derived from the Internet Society’s creation of the Public Internet Registry to operate the .ORG top level domain registry. The Internet Society’s scope has increased significantly as a consequence of this stable support and it contributes to global education and training about the Internet as well as to the broad policy developments needed for effective use of this new communication infrastructure.
As a computer scientist and naturalist, Jon would also be fascinated and excited by the development of an interplanetary extension of the Internet to support manned and robotic exploration of the solar system. This very month, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will begin testing of an interplanetary protocol using the Deep Impact spacecraft now in eccentric orbit around the sun. This project began almost exactly ten years ago and is reaching a major milestone as the first decade of the 21st century comes to an end.
It is probable that Jon would not agree with all the various choices and decisions that have been made regarding the Internet in the last ten years and it is worth remembering his philosophical view:
‘Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive.’
Of course, he meant this in the context of detailed protocols but it also serves as a reminder that in a multi-stakeholder world, accommodation and understanding can go a long way towards reaching consensus or, failing that, at least toleration of choices that might not be at the top of everyone’s list.
No one, not even someone of Jon’s vision, can predict where the Internet will end up decades hence. It is certain, however, that it will evolve and that this evolution will come, in large measure, from its users. Virtually all the most interesting new applications of the Internet have come, not from the providers of various Internet-based services but from ordinary users with extraordinary ideas and the skills to try things out. That they are able to do this is a consequence of the largely open and non-discriminatory access to the Internet that has prevailed over the past decade. Maintaining this spirit of open access is the key to further development and it seems a reasonable speculation that if Jon were still with us, he would be in the forefront of the Internet community in vocal and articulate support of that view.
A ten-year toast seems in order. Here’s to Jonathan B. Postel, a man who went about his work diligently and humbly, who served all who wished to partake of the Internet and to contribute to it, and who did so asking nothing in return but the satisfaction of a job well done and a world open to new ideas.
Posted by Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist
(Via Official Google Blog.)
GOP Site Endorses E-Mail Smears, Posted 'Waterboard Obama' Message: "The Sacramento County Republican Party is fanning the flames of hate by promoting debunked e-mails on its website, and calling for Democrat Barack Obama to be waterboarded.
(Via Wired News.)
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Viewpoint: The impetuous John McCain
By Jamie Stiehm
Political commentator, Washington DC
Senator John McCain's personal charms are in danger of turning into a liability as the former Navy fighter pilot looms large in the American sky.
In private the impetuous, nearly manic nature of the Republican running for president is exhilarating - in public it's beginning to look like volatility, a cause for alarm among friends and foes alike.
Aside from an unfortunate reference to his opponent as "that one", McCain gave a rather restrained performance on Tuesday in the debate at Nashville, Tennessee.
It was a strategy to show voters he had, as he put it, "a steady hand at the tiller".
But contrast the mellow McCain of Nashville to the warrior of the first debate in Oxford, Mississippi, where he gripped the podium with an expression of suppressed fury, and seemed on the verge of swinging a fist at Democratic candidate Barack Obama.
Viewers could easily draw the conclusion that the candidate is dominated by his passing moods.
When I covered Congress as a reporter years ago, I lunched with the senator and his press secretary in the Senate dining room.
There McCain showed me how he communicated with other prisoners of war in Vietnam, by tapping in Morse code on the table.
In a winning way, he also mockingly threatened to thrash author Michael Lewis, who had just cracked my heart. This light-hearted McCain "never met a stranger", as they say.
It's no secret the media had a collective crush on the straight-talking, disarming Republican when he ran for president and lost to George W Bush in 2000. For he was an honourable man, we felt.
One of his finer moments in the Clinton years was reaching out to a junior Democratic senator, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, to pass a co-authored campaign finance reform bill.
At 72, the snow-topped senator knows this is his last try.
The first sign that his temperament may be "erratic" - as Mr Obama now puts it - was when he cancelled the first night of the National Republican Convention up north in Minnesota for fear of a hurricane down south.
Some thought McCain needed a reason to keep President Bush (who was scheduled to speak) from showing up at the party. But this sort of thing is just not done - it's never happened before.
Then, when McCain suspended his campaign during the financial crisis and headed for the halls of Congress, his move shocked observers on both sides of the party aisle.
He ran the risk of missing the first debate, an odd form of political suicide.
In Oxford, his dark side showed up. Obama, he insisted over and over, does not understand Iraq, Army General David Petraeus and the like.
John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin was "spectacularly unpredictable"
In fact, McCain has curiously made the "surge" general a personal issue: either you accept his word as gospel and ask to meet him or you don't understand war and peace in the Middle East.
(That kind of public deference to a commander, by the way, is counter to the American civil-military code, and points to something deep in McCain's way of seeing the world.)
Casting the unschooled Governor Sarah Palin in an understudy role was McCain's most spectacularly unpredictable decision. Impetuous? You betcha, the woman from Wasilla might say in her downhome way.
The larger picture is that a sobered-up American public wants to look and listen to determine if candidates have clear-cut answers to their questions and worries about a frail economy.
But few know what McCain is going to do next on the national stage, which could make voters uneasy in these troubled times.
The next question: if he does show up, which side of McCain are we going to see?
By his own admission he was a hotheaded young man
A minor variation on this theme is McCain's last-minute decision to stand up the popular late-night CBS talk show host, David Letterman - who took umbrage and has not let millions forget the slight.
Letterman claims McCain told him he had to rush back to Washington, but stayed in New York to be interviewed by Katie Couric, anchor of the CBS Evening News.
Former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has described McCain's character as molded by the "brawling traditions of the United States Navy". There is something to that.
McCain boasts of his checkered record at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where he graduated perilously close to the bottom of his class.
By his own admission, he was a hotheaded and privileged young man who narrowly avoided expulsion. Later, as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, the lesson he seems to have learned over long years is to never give up the fight, even when the war is lost.
The son and grandson of admirals, McCain still has a swagger in his step and a permanent air of defiance. It's part of his appeal, but it may sink his ship in this rough political sea.
"The DMCA, which John McCain supported, doesn't let YouTube consider fair-use rights before taking down a campaign video with potentially infringing content, the site's top lawyer tells the McCain campaign."
YouTube on Tuesday rebuffed a request from John McCain's presidential campaign to examine fair-use issues more carefully before yanking campaign videos in response to DMCA takedown notices.
"Lawyers and judges constantly disagree about what does and does not constitute fair-use," YouTube's general counsel Zahavah Levine wrote in a letter Tuesday. "No number of lawyers could possibly determine with a reasonable level of certainty whether all the videos for which we receive disputed takedown notices qualify as fair-use."
"We hope that as a content uploader, you have gained a sense of some of the challenges we face everyday in operating YouTube," he added.
The McCain campaign on Monday fired off a letter to YouTube complaining that the company had acted too quickly to take down McCain's videos in response to copyright infringement notices. McCain campaign general counsel Trevor Potter argued that several of the removed ads, which had used excerpts of television footage, fall under the four-factor doctrine of fair-use, and shouldn't have been removed.
But citing the DMCA, a controversial copyright law that McCain voted to approve a decade ago, Levine pointed out that YouTube risks being sued itself if it doesn't respond promptly to takedown notices.
"If … service providers do not remove the content to such notice, they do so at their own risk because they lose their safe harbor,"he wrote.
Further, Levine argued, the fair-use analysis is complicated, and the creators of the videos are better equipped to perform it. The uploader can then issue a DMCA counter-notice if they believe they're on solid legal ground, and YouTube will restore the video.
"YouTube does not possess the requisite information about the content in user-uploaded videos to make a determination as to whether a particular takedown notice includes a valid claim of infringement," Levine wrote. "The claimant and the uploader, not YouTube, hold all of the relevant information in this regard, including the source of any content used, the ownership rights to the content, and any licensing arrangements in place between the parties."
"The real problem here is individuals and entities that abuse the DMCA takedown process," he added.
"We look forward to working with Senator (or President) McCain on ways to combat abuse of the DMCA takedown process on YouTube, including by way of example, strengthening the fair-use doctrine, so that intermediaries like us can rely on this important doctrine with a measure of business certainty."
(Via Wired News.)
Hey, whoa, we never meant to buy that bit!
A formatting fubar involving an Excel spreadsheet has left Barclays Capital with contracts involving collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers than it never meant to acquire.
Working to a tight deadline, a junior law associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP converted an Excel file into a PDF format document. The doc was to be posted on a bankruptcy court's website before a midnight purchase offer deadline on 18 September, just four hours after Barclays sent the spreadsheet to the lawyers. The Excel file contained 1,000 rows of data and 24,000 cells.
Some of these details on various trading contracts were marked as hidden because they were not intended to form part of Barclays' proposed deal. However, this "hidden" distinction was ignored during the reformatting process so that Barclays ended up offering to take on an additional 179 contracts as part of its bankruptcy buyout deal, Finextra reports.
The error was discovered on 1 October, after US Bankruptcy Judge James Peck approved the deal, prompting a legal motion (pdf) from Barclays to amend the deal, excluding the scores of contracts it states were mistakingly included in the agreement. The story was broken by legal tabloid Above The Law.
Lehman Brothers sought bankruptcy projection on 15 September, a move that set off a chain of events that have shaken confidence in global financial institutions and the collapse of stock markets across the globe that has only been partially reversed by unprecedented government bail-outs to the banking sector. Barclays first offered to buy a "stripped clean" portion of Lehman for around $1.75bn on 16 September.
A revised version of the deal was eventually agreed on 18 September, largely focusing on the New York arm of Lehman's business (including its $910m-valued headquarters) and responsibility for 9,000 former employees. Barclays paid $1.35bn for these assets as well as taking on responsibility for some of Lehman's trading positions which, because of the formatting error, became more numerous than it intended.
It's unclear what the financial ramifications of the formatting error might be. Excel spreadsheets might seem a fairly unsophisticated method of logging multi-billion pound trading positions, but they are quick to produce and easy to understand - vital consideration in a financial market - which makes them widely used.
A hearing on Barclays Capital's attempts to extricate itself from the mess created by the dodgy Excel conversion is pencilled in for 5 November.
(Via The Register.)
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
From the R.I.S.Ks Digest:
Date: Tue, 14 Oct 2008 07:55:32 -0700
From: Paul Saffo
Subject: Investigator: Computer likely caused Qantas plunge
[Brings back memories of the early A320 accidents caused in part by a
stubborn fly-by-wire system... -p]
Investigator: Computer likely caused Qantas plunge
Rod McGuirk, Associated Press, 14 Oct 2008
A faulty computer unit likely caused a Qantas jetliner to experience two
terrifying midair plunges within minutes last week. More than 40 people
were injured when the Airbus A330-300 briefly nose-dived twice during a
flight from Singapore to the western Australian city of Perth last Tuesday.
Julian Walsh, chief air investigator at the Australian Transport Safety
Bureau, said an initial investigation indicated the cause was a computer
unit that detects through sensors the angle of the plane against the
airstream. He said one of the plane's three such units malfunctioned and
sent the wrong data to the main flight computers.
The flight data recorder indicated the plane, carrying 303 passengers and 10
crew, climbed about 200 feet from its cruising level of 37,000 feet and then
went into a nose-dive, dropping about 650 feet in 20 seconds, before
returning to cruising level, the safety bureau said last week. The sharp
drop was quickly followed by a second of about 400 feet in 16 seconds.
[The Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU) was sending "erroneous,
spike" data to the Flight Control Primary Computers ("PRIM", comparable to
the A320's ELACs), which event disconnected the autopilot. A short while
later the ADIRU sent "very high, random, incorrect" values to the PRIM,
causing a pitch-down command. The same occurred again another short while
later. See the ASTB press release:
Incidentally, early suspicions centered on air turbulence, which were
incorrect. I have disregarded many of the earlier postings from RISKS
readers, but thank you for them. PGN]
The problem is the latest in a series of malfunctions and near-misses for
Australia's flagship carrier in recent weeks.
Australian authorities are still investigating an explosion aboard a Qantas
747-400 aircraft carrying 365 people over the South China Sea in July that
ripped a hole in the fuselage. That explosion caused rapid loss of pressure
in the passenger cabin but no one was injured.
Walsh said the French manufacturer Airbus had notified all operators of A330
and A340 aircraft, which are equipped with the same sensors, about how crews
should respond to such a malfunction. But aircraft are unlikely to be
grounded over a malfunction that had never happened before, he said. "It is
probably unlikely that there will be a recurrence, but obviously we won't
dismiss that," Walsh told reporters, saying they would investigate the
The faulty unit will be sent to the U.S. component manufacturer for testing,
he said. A report on the accident is to be released next month. Qantas said
the preliminary findings showed that the fault lay with the manufacturer
rather than the airline. "This is clearly a manufacturer's issue and we
will comply with the manufacturer's advice," the airline said in a
After seeings its videos repeatedly removed from YouTube, John McCain's campaign on Monday told the Google-owned video site that its copyright infringement policies are stringent to the point of stifling free speech, and that its lawyers need to revamp the way they evaluate copyright infringement claims.
"We fully understand that YouTube may receive too many videos, and too many take-down notices, to be able to conduct full fair-use review of all such notices," wrote Trevor Potter, the campaign's general counsel, in a letter to YouTube and Google. "But we believe it would consume few resources — and provide enormous benefit — for YouTube to commit a full legal review of all take-down notices on videos posted from accounts controlled by (at least) political candidates and campaigns."
The McCain campaign's web video ads have been repeatedly either knocked off YouTube or have had to be revamped for using excerpts of television debate footage, and pop songs as soundtracks, without negotiating for the rights first.
One of its highest profile hits on the web, "Obama Love," for example, faced an embarrassing revamp in July when YouTube received a DMCA take-down notice from The Warner Music Group. The campaign had used Franki Valli's hit tune "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" as the video's sarcastic soundtrack.
The letter is notable both because YouTube and online video generally have become prime platforms for communicating political messages during the 2008 presidential campaign, and because this is one of the rare instances when a member of Congress is speaking out in favor of fair-use rights, after experiencing for themselves the onerous burden put on citizens using media to express ideas.
The concept of fair use has had few defenders in Congress, where it's usually treated by lawmakers as code for piracy.
The letter was addressed to YouTube's CEO Chad Hurley, William Patry, Google's senior copyright counsel, and YouTube's General Counsel Zahavah Levine. Patry, ironically, is known for scholarship on the fair-use doctrine.
The doctrine says that four factors should be used to determine whether the unauthorized use of copyrighted material infringes: Whether the use is non-commercial and transformative; whether it's factual; the extent of the use of the material and the impact of the use on the market for the work.
McCain's campaign on Monday argued that its uses of tiny clips of copyrighted material falls within the scope of the doctrine.
"The uses at issue have been the inclusion of fewer than ten seconds of footage from news broadcasts in campaign ads or videos, as a basis for commentary on the issues presented in news reports, or on the reports themselves," Potter wrote. "These are paradigmatic examples of fair use, in which all four of the statutory factors are strongly in our favor."
Earlier last year, the McCain campaign was the subject of copyright infringement claims from Fox News, which objected to the campaign's use of its debate footage.
(Via Wired News.)
Sunday, 12 October 2008
Andy Baio likes to keep up with U.S. election news at the Memeorandum news aggregator, but wanted an easy way to see if the links on the page pointed to a liberal or conservative political site—so he put together a Greasemonkey user script that does just that. Baio's Memeorandum Colors script colors sites that usually link to conservative topics red, and sites that generally link to liberal topics blue (the colors get darker or lighter depending on the sites' linking activity). The result is a quick visualization of what kind of political site a link points to using colors. Baio explains:
The colors don't necessarily represent each blogger's personal views or biases. It's a reflection of their linking activity. The algorithm looks at the stories that bloggers linked to before, relative to all other bloggers, and groups them accordingly. People that link to things that only conservatives find interesting will be classified as bright red, even if they are personally moderate or liberal, and vice-versa.
Baio also explains how he put together the data and uses it with this script, which is a pretty interesting read for Greasemonkey developers. The Memeorandum Colors script is a free download, and it's available as a Greasemonkey user script, full-on Firefox extension, or bookmarklet that works with all browsers.
But as she doesn't think she did anything wrong on the Trooper-gate case "hey, I didn't break the law..." do you think she will abide by this or let it have any effect on her behaviour?
"quarterbuck writes 'An Anchorage judge has found that Governor Sarah Palin must save her emails . Last week a Tennessee man was arrested over hacking her email account. Washington post also reports that Sarah Palin, her husband and officials had set-up email accounts known only to each other.'
Thursday, 9 October 2008
Qantas Blames Wireless For Aircraft Incidents: "musther writes 'An Australian airline Qantas Airbus A330-300, suffered 'a sudden change of altitude' on Tuesday. 'The mid-air incident resulted in injuries to 74 people, with 51 of them treated by three hospitals in Perth for fractures, lacerations and suspected spinal injuries when the flight bound from Singapore to Perth had a dramatic drop in altitude that hurled passengers around the cabin.' Now it seems Qantas is seeking to blame interference from passenger electronics, and it's not the first time; 'In July, a passenger clicking on a wireless mouse mid-flight was blamed for causing a Qantas jet to be thrown off course'. Is there any precedent for wireless electronics interfering with aircraft systems? Interfering with navigation instruments is one thing, but causing changes in the 'elevator control system' — I would be quite worried if I thought the aircraft could be flown with a bluetooth mouse.'
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
Very, very, very scary:
A month of primary recounts in the election battleground of Palm Beach County, Florida, has twice flipped the winner in a local judicial race and revealed grave problems in the county's election infrastructure, including thousands of misplaced ballots and vote tabulation machines that are literally unable to produce the same results twice.
Experts say the brew of administrative bungling and mysterious technological failures raises new and troubling questions about the county that played a crucial role in the 2000 presidential election debacle, and is one of a handful of counties considered pivotal in the upcoming presidential election. Voting advocates are fearful that problems here -- and perhaps in other election hot spots -- could trigger a replay of the disputed 2000 election.
"It doesn't get any more swing than that swing state," said Pamela Smith, president of election-integrity group Verified Voting, "and that's a major county. This is going to be a very high-turnout election. In any election you should be able to have justifiable confidence in the outcome. If you're having different results every time you count the ballots, that's not going to create confidence."
At issue is an Aug. 26 primary election in which officials discovered, during a recount of a close judicial race, that more than 3,400 ballots had mysteriously disappeared after they were initially counted on election day. The recount a week later, minus the missing ballots, flipped the results of the race to a different winner.
The county eventually found the missing ballots after a prolonged hunt. But it also turned up an additional 200 or so ballots that officials never knew were missing and that were never counted in the original tabulation of the race. A recently completed recount -- with all of the ballots -- has restored victory to the original winner. But the month-long saga has left voters and state officials exasperated and distrustful of the ability of county officials to run a competent general election in November. More important, it's also uncovered perplexing problems in some of the county's high-speed optical-scan tabulation machines, made by Sequoia Voting Systems. The machines flunked reliability tests prompted by the recount -- producing different results for the same batch of ballots.
The probe began after Florida's August primary, which involved a variety of local races in different districts. In Palm Beach County, the one-page ballot included a race for a Circuit Court judge seat, which resulted in attorney William Abramson beating incumbent Judge Richard Wennet by just 17 votes.
Florida election law requires a recount when a margin of victory is one-half of 1 percent or less. But when officials conducted the recount a week after the primary, they discovered they had 3,478 fewer ballots than when they'd counted them on election day. Undeterred, they proceeded with the recount, which resulted in Abramson losing to Wennet this time, by 60 votes.
The county planned to certify the recount results, despite the absence of nearly 3,500 ballots and protests from Abramson, until state election officials stepped in and said they would not accept the results in that race until the county found the missing ballots.
A hunt for the ballots ensued, and was so successful that officials found an additional 227 ballots that were never counted on election day. All of the ballots were discovered in boxes in the county's tabulation center. Officials blamed the overlooked ballots on the disorderly way in which the recount was conducted, and the high number of ballots cast in the election.
On that last point, it's worth noting that about 100,000 primary ballots were cast in the county. The county is expecting more than half-a-million ballots to be cast Nov. 4. The ballot in November will also be two pages long, as opposed to the one-page ballot used in the primary, increasing concerns that the county could become ground zero for an election meltdown in the presidential race.
After the missing and new ballots were discovered, a court ordered a second machine recount of the judicial race. The second recount confirmed the initial election results, that Abramson was the winner. But this time his margin of victory was 115 votes, up from the 17 votes by which he'd originally beaten Wennet.
But even that wasn't the final score.
As mentioned above, Florida law requires a recount if the margin of victory in an election is one-half of 1 percent or less. That recount is only a machine recount, not a manual recount. However, if that recount results in a margin of victory that is one-quarter of 1 percent or less, then county officials must manually examine ballots that were spit out by the recount machines as being unreadable for having an undervote or overvote in the disputed race. They do this to determine if the machine missed legitimate votes that were marked correctly or if the voter's intent was clear enough that the ballot should be counted anyway even though the voter failed to mark the ballot correctly (for example, if a voter failed to follow directions on the ballot and circled a candidate's name instead of filling in a space next to the candidate's name as the ballot instructed).
So Palm Beach County proceeded to do a manual examination of some 12,000 ballots that the optical-scan machines had rejected. Officials found legitimate votes that were marked clearly and correctly and should have been read by the machines. They also found other ballots that were not marked correctly and therefore couldn't be read by the machines, but still indicated a clear choice by the voter.
In the wake of that count, Abramson was still the winner, but now his margin of victory had gone down from 115 votes to 58 votes. Then a new surprise emerged.
Election officials discovered that an additional 159 ballots from 54 precincts may have had valid votes on them that never made it into the tabulation.
They determined this by looking at reports that each voting precinct produced on election day. Those reports indicated the number of ballots that the precinct-based optical-scan machines had flagged for undervotes or overvotes. Officials discovered that the numbers of undervotes and overvotes didn't add up to the total numbers that county election officials had calculated after the ballots were run through the county-based high-speed optical-scan machines.
This raised questions about whether optical-scan machines were erroneously rejecting legitimate votes as undervotes, or whether election officials had simply misrecorded the numbers or mistakenly placed legitimate ballots into piles of undervote ballots.
So county officials decided to ask a judge to let them conduct a third machine recount of some 3,000 ballots to see if they could find the mysterious 159 ballots that were throwing off the numbers. Additional legitimate votes were found in this round; at the end, Abramson was still the winner, but his margin of victory was now 61 votes, nearly the identical margin by which Wennet had won in the first recount.
"I'm overwhelmed," Abramson told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "This is why we're the greatest country.... We were faced with adversity and we all rose to the challenge."
Wennet had a different view.
He said Florida law allowed for only one recount and that the additional recounts were invalid. He asked a court to throw out any results after the initial recount that had him winning by 60 votes, even though that initial recount was conducted without some 3,500 missing ballots.
Barring that, Wennet asked for a do-over election on Nov. 4.
As part of his complaint, Wennet cited the unreliability of the optical-scan machines that counted the ballots. He asked the court to order a test of the high-speed optical-scan machines that were used for the recount.
Palm Beach County was using new optical-scan machines that it recently purchased from Sequoia Voting Systems for $5.5 million. The machines replaced paperless touchscreen machines that the county had purchased in 2002, which were bought to replace punch card machines that were involved in the 2000 election debacle. Florida outlawed paperless voting machines last year, leaving Palm Beach and 14 other Florida counties to change their voting systems for the second time in eight years. (All Florida voting machines, including touchscreen machines, must now produce a paper trail). The county used one model of Sequoia's scanners at precincts on election day, but used different high-speed scanners in the election office headquarters to conduct the recount.
So on Wednesday last week, the county conducted a test on a random sampling of its eight high-speed machines. It scanned about 262 ballots that had previously been rejected by machines for having undervotes or overvotes, and that had then been examined by hand to determine if the machine's reading of the ballots was accurate.
Only two of the county's eight high-speed machines were tested. That's because last Thursday the county was scheduled to begin programming its optical-scan machines for the Nov. 4 election.
Officials expected the machines would reject the same ballots again. But that didn't happen. During a first test of 160 ballots, the machines accepted three of them. In a second test of 102 ballots, the machines accepted 13 of them, and rejected the others. When the same ballots were run through the machines again, 90 of the ballots were accepted. (All of these numbers come from the Sun-Sentinel story about the test. Election officials could not be reached to confirm the numbers.)
Wennet's attorney, Gerald Richman, who witnessed the tests firsthand, provided Wired.com with more details about the test, which, if accurate, clearly endorse his belief that the machines are highly unreliable.
Richman told Wired.com that four ballots that had previously been rejected by a high-speed machine were examined by a county canvassing board and deemed to have clearly marked legitimate votes that should have been read by the machines. When the four ballots were run through each of the two high-speed machines again, three of the ballots were accepted and read by both machines this time, but the fourth ballot was again rejected.
Richman said the county then re-scanned two batches of 51 ballots each that had initially been rejected for having no vote cast in the judicial race, but that were found in a manual examination to contain legitimate votes for one candidate or the other. The first batch of 51 ballots were found to have legitimate votes for Abramson. The second batch of 51 ballots were found to have legitimate votes for Wennet.
In the ballots containing votes for Abramson, 11 of the 51 ballots that had previously been rejected as undervotes were now accepted by one of the machines as having legitimate votes, and the remaining 40 ballots were rejected as having no vote. In the ballots containing votes for Wennet, the same machine accepted 2 ballots and rejected 49.
The same two batches of ballots were then run through the second high-speed optical-scan machine. This time, the machine accepted 41 of the Abramson ballots as having legitimate votes (up from 11 on the other machine) and rejected 10 others. In the batch of Wennet ballots, the machine accepted 49 and rejected 2 -- the exact opposite of the results from the first machine.
"We just sat there with our heads spinning," Richman said. "It was unbelievable. Nobody has been able to explain it."
Richman said some of the ballots that were correctly marked were rejected, while other ballots that the machines read in the test should have been rejected by the scanners. These ballots were marked with a check or "X" instead of the voter filling in the gap in a broken arrow next to the candidate's name, as the ballot instructed.
Because of the problems in these tests, a second round of testing was conducted last Friday on six precinct-based optical scan machines out of a thousand machines the state uses. (These were machines that counted votes at precincts on election day, not the eight high-speed machines that counted ballots in the recount.)
According to the Sun-Sentinel, the six machines functioned properly in that test. But Richman said the test only involved re-scanning 10 ballots from two precincts to see if the 10 votes that were initially recorded in the judicial race at those precincts remained the same in the test.
"We had no time to do more," Richman explained. "Those machines had to be serviced the following day and reset for the [November] election."
Neither Palm Beach County officials nor Florida's secretary of state have responded to several calls for comment. Sequoia Voting Systems also has not responded to a call to explain why some of its high-speed machines rejected legitimate ballots. Sequoia has likely been preoccupied with another issue involving its optical-scan machines in Washington, D.C., where hearings are being held to examine why a Sequoia system mysteriously added 1,500 phantom write-in votes to the Sept. 9 primary election totals in one precinct and calculated a total of 4,759 votes cast in the precinct where only 326 were actually cast. The company has blamed the issue on static discharge or mishandling of a memory cartridge by poll workers.
Back in Florida, Richman has compiled an affidavit (.pdf) describing the results of the tests conducted on Palm Beach County machines to submit in Wennet's suit. But Richman, who is on Sen. Barack Obama's legal team, says the problem isn't only how the machines malfunctioned in the recount and the tests, but how the problem might not have been uncovered at all if the judicial race hadn't been so close that it required a manual examination of the undervote ballots.
"[Ordinarily] nobody looks at ballots that have been counted by the machine," Richman said. "Normally there is a presumption that whatever the machine does is correct, and you only look at the overvotes and undervotes in a hand recount. Which is a problem, because if [the margin of victory] is not within a quarter of 1 percent, you never get to a hand count. If there were mistakes involving other races, we'll never know what the mistakes were."
Douglas Jones, a professor of computer science at the University of Iowa who has consulted with a number of states on voting machine issues, said the problem with the machines is likely inconsistent calibration among machines.
Jones blamed the federal voting system standards by which voting systems are tested and certified. He says the federal standards don't set a threshold for what should be an acceptable number of scanning mistakes and calibration decisions are thus left to the companies that make them.
"This is an area where our voting system standards are virtually silent," he said. "The voting-system standards only require perfect counting of perfectly marked ballots. They don't have anything to say about how the machine counts ballots marked by real people in real elections. The standards don't govern one of the most important things about the machines."
Jones also blamed election officials who fail to properly test machines before elections or who leave pre-election testing and setup of machines for vendors to do, rather than doing it themselves.
"That's the norm, that the vendor sets up the machines," Jones said. "And my experience is that counties that contract with the vendor to operate the voting system generally don't do anything to monitor the performance of that contract."
In 2004 in Napa County, California, an optical-scan machine made by Sequoia failed to count more than 6,000 votes, because the Sequoia employee who set up the machine failed to calibrate it to read certain kinds of pens that voters used to mark their ballots.
Florida is expected to be a fierce battleground in the presidential race. If Obama or Sen. John McCain wins with a large-enough margin, there will never be reason for a recount that might uncover the kinds of mistakes that were revealed in the primary aftermath.
If there is reason for a recount, the time frame to conduct it could be a problem, considering how long it took to complete multiple rounds of recounts in the judicial race. Florida state law gives counties only 12 days after a general election to certify election results (counties have only 7 days after a primary to certify results), which provides little time for a complicated or problematic recount to be resolved -- that is, unless the state canvassing board refuses to accept problematic recount results, as it did in the judicial race this year.
In the 2000 presidential race, state officials weren't as accommodating. At the time, Florida's law allowed counties only 7 days to certify results from a general election, and then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris refused to extend the deadline on Nov. 14 to allow counties to conduct a manual recount of the paper ballots that were cast in the disputed presidential race. The state Supreme Court overruled her and extended the deadline by to Nov. 26. But when Palm Beach County requested an additional extension to finish counting the last 1,000 ballots, Harris refused and certified George Bush the winner by fewer than 600 votes. Palm Beach County completed its hand recount two hours after the deadline passed.
Smith's Verified Voting group led the national charge to replace paperless touchscreen machines with optical-scan machines and other machines that produce voter-verified audit trails. She said it's not enough to have paper ballots: Palm Beach and other counties using optical-scan machines need to have robust pre-election and post-election testing of machines to make certain they're calibrated correctly and that they're reading a wide range of pencils and pens that voters use to mark their ballots. They also need robust manual audits to randomly compare a sample of cast ballots with the machine tabulation rather than waiting on a close race and a recount to catch problems with the machines.
It's unclear if Palm Beach County will be able to test its systems in the manner Smith describes for November. According to a news report, the county has asked Sequoia to examine all eight of its high-speed optical scanners next week.
(Via Wired News.)