Archive for April, 2005

Fresh Bait?

Friday, April 29th, 2005

I’m confused. I got this email today, and though I know that it must be some sort of scam, I can’t for the life of me imagine what the sender could do if I responded. The email:

Good day,

My name is Mr. John Marthins with <real-sounding organization>, and I am interested in potentially ordering medical parts from your store. Iâ??d like to know the availability and cost of the specifications below:

  • 30 Lithman Classic II Stethoscopes
  • 30 Digital Blood Pressure Monitors (Any brand available for small cuffs)

Upon the receipt of your costs and availability, I can supply you with my Visa account number or other payment method to prepay funds for the order and shipping via US Global Express Mail Service (3 to 5 days shipping) to:

<real-sounding organization>
<real-looking address>
Nigeria , 23401

I look forward to hearing from you,

John Marthins
(<real-looking email address>

This can’t possibly be worth it just to confirm legitimate email addresses, can it? How could you use this to scam someone out of money? At best they’ll get a bunch of “Sorry, you wrote to the wrong address” emails in return.

I don’t get it.

Note: although the yahoo address in the email seems reasonably legitimate, I am quite sure this is a spam-scam of some sort — the actual address from which the email came is too fishy for words.

Miserable Failure

Friday, April 29th, 2005

Yesterday a co-worker made mention of the upcoming Start Wars movie, and my response was “Oh, does that open this weekend?” He replied “no”, it opens on such-and-such weekend, but there’s a preview opening so-and-so days earlier. I promptly forgot whatever the heck dates and such that he told me.

I’m a miserable failure as a nerd! *sob*

Though I’m still apparently a successful geek….

(…and I’m eagerly anticipating the release of this movie, so that’s something.)

Update: Beyond “miserable failure”! It seems I can’t even spell the movie name right! *Ahem* All together now: S-t-a-r W-a-r-s.

“Fair Use” and the law

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

The Shape of Days has an extended debate running regarding the legalitites of music copying, “sharing” and the like. The post itself is unremarkable, but the comments following got interesting, and I was part of the debate. I started to write this as a response, then decided that for sheer size it warranted throwing it up here and saving Jeff some bandwidth. The debate at this point regarded the legality, under the concept of “Fair Use” of making a compilation from music CDs you own, and then giving that CD to a friend.

(Note: this discussion is regarding U.S. law.)

From Nolo, a description of “Fair Use” considerations (my comments are the unquoted paragraphs…):

Rule 1: Are You Creating Something New or Just Copying?

The question to ask here is whether you are merely copying someone else’s work verbatim or instead using it to help create something new.

Copying a whole album would not fall under fair use, but making a compilation arguably does. Of course, since today you can commonly buy a single song, this aspect has shifted a bit — but what about songs you still cannot obtain singly?

Rule 2: Are Your Competing With the Source You’re Copying From?

Without consent, you ordinarily cannot use another person’s protected expression in a way that impairs (or even potentially impairs) the market for his or her work.”

If my friend makes a compilation CD, would it make me less or more likely to later buy the source CD? In reality, people passing around compilations is some of the best advertising musicians have, especially if they are lesser-known. Note the distinction I made above between copying one song versus the whole album.

Also see note above about availability of single songs. If you give me a whole song, I’m less likely to go buy that one song off of iTunes….

[Rule 3 not relevant to the discussion…]

Rule 4: The More You Take, the Less Fair Your Use Is Likely to Be

The more material you take, the less likely it is that your use will be a fair use. As a general rule, never quote more than a few successive paragraphs from a book or article, or take more than one chart or diagram.

Again, one song off an album put into a compilation, vs. copying a whole album. Most of this is a question of “Where do you draw the line?” (or where will a judge draw the line?)

Rule 5: The Quality of the Material Used Is as Important as the Quantity

The more important the material is to the original work, the less likely your use of it will be considered a fair use.

So it seems there’s a hitch: does copying the One Good Song of an otherwise lousy album count as taking the “most important part” of the album? Hmm….

There is no more commonsensical definition of fair use than the golden rule: Take from someone else only what you wouldn’t mind someone taking from you.

Okay, we’re getting away from legalisms here, but I personally am a singer, and I’ve considered making an album. Wholesale copying of said album would obviously hurt sales, but people passing around copies of one or two individual songs to personal friends would probably be good advertising. It’s called “word of mouth”, a.k.a. “buzz” — and is just about the best marketing you can get.

A different, and far more pertinent article, (Bytes of Law – The Law of Digital Sound), says:

The vague sense among the populace that it is okay to make copies of music is based on the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA), w.30 which Congress passed in 1992. …[T]he Act offers… protections from lawsuits against consumers who use [digital audio recording] devices and media for making recordings of music for noncommercial use.[…]

[T]he intention of Congress was to protect “private, noncommercial use.” Under this understanding, Joe can make copies [of CDs he owns] basically only for his personal, private use-not for his friends or anyone else. I suspect the reality is somewhere in between. No, Joe can’t make copies for the world, but I doubt making a compilation of his favorite tunes for his girlfriend will get Joe into trouble.

So is making a compilation CD and giving it to my friend “letter of the law” illegal? Arguably yes; but… arguably no: by reading the term “private use” that strictly you could also argue that it’s illegal for me to play my compilation CD within earshot of my friends — which gets us into the realm of absurd.

Seriously, read the second article. It’s very specific to this topic, and has a lot of good information about some of the legal arguments flying fast and furious these days.

Greatest hits

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

I find it interesting that this is by far the most popular page on this entire site (in terms of hit count, excluding spiders).

I can’t figure out how people are finding it though. I can’t identify any other site that has linked to that particular post, and I don’t see anything in the “search keyword” referrers that would seem to point to that page, but there it is.

In second place, with a full 25% fewer hits, is the main blog page.

As my young nephew would say, “Instresting!”

Giant face-eating turtle blogging

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005

The Shape of Days links to a post on Powerline about a certain reptilian visitor of unusual size — a snapping turtle that he likens to a tank….

Once quite a while ago (in the Old Days before blogs and digital cameras) we had a big old snapper in my parents’ yard. John at Powerline described his snapper in the picture as a foot and a half long from head to tail. This sucker’s _shell_ was at least that long — it was a real whopper. (I would estimate two to two and a half feet with its neck out).

We discovered it because we let the dogs out (three yellow labs weighing in at up to 70-100 pounds each), and they immediately made a beeline for it, barking ferociously. Those dogs may’ve been stupid, but they were no dummies — the circled the thing and barked at it, but kept out of range of its head.

The really creepy thing was when it would rear its head up. You think of turtles as having these stubby little necks, but this guy would stretch it out quite a ways and Hhiiiiiiissssssssssss like a snake — jaws wide open.

I was not at all worried about what the dogs might do to the turtle — I was worried about one of the dogs losing an appendage (you know, like a foot, or their entire face back to the eyeballs or something).

So we pretty much had to body tackle the dogs as they raced past close enough to reach, and drag them back to the house. We kept them inside for a few hours and the turtle was long gone into the woods, never to be seen again.

(A couple years later I saw another huge one — crossing the road this time. Same guy? Who knows. We have a lot of ponds and small lakes in our area, which come with a correspondingly large turtle population.)

Discipline (and lack thereof)

Monday, April 25th, 2005

Baldilocks has a post up about the recent incident where a kindergartener is lead off in handcuffs after throwing an extended tantrum in school.

In a nutshell the kid threw a temper tantrum to such an extent that they evacuated the rest of her class from the room. She’s tearing up the classroom, and refusing all (far more patient than I could have been) attempts to get her to stop. (Most of this is on videotape, BTW). Finally she is taken to the principal’s office, which she promptly trashes as well. She tears apart the bulletin board, jumps up on the tables, repeatedly punches at the teacher, and Just Won’t Stop until… Oopsie! she realizes the police have just arrived. Suddenly she sits in the chair and for the first time takes on some semblance of behaving herself.

The police come in and escort her out in handcuffs.

Now, the family (well… the mother; No mention of a father in any of the stories I read…) has lawyered up and is suing. The police “overreacted” by putting their poor little baby in handcuffs.

I think handcuffs were entirely appropriate — probably the only option for someone so out of control. It’s worth noting that this is not the first time this particular kid has been this out of control — the cop knew her as he walked in, and refers to “the last time”.

(Had I been a teacher there I would have pinned her to the wall until the police arrived — and then I would probably be charged with assault for daring to lay a hand on the poor little defenseless darling.)

If you read the comments at Baldilocks you’ll see all kinds of comments that the girl must be “developmentally disabled” and such — as though it’s not really her fault. I have to call bullshit on that one — the most damning moment on the tape (yes I watched the tape) is when she goes from screeching hellion to well-behaved innocent the instant the police show up. She knows exactly what she is doing — she reacted to the police because she knew that finally there is someone there who can actually do something to stop her. Thus calming down is a calculated choice in the face of the first genuine threat of discipline.

The problem here is that she most likely goes home and the mother will show no concept that her dear little sweet girl might have done something _wrong_, so instead the girl hears the one pseudo-authority figure she has saying “Oh what did those mean people do to you? You didn’t deserve that!” Then they call a slimeball lawyer* to reinforce the “rightness” of her incredibly selfish behavior.

The mother has to be somehow convinced to take control of her daughter. If the state has to resort to legal measures (hold her responsible for the girl’s behavior?) or financial (maybe send her a bill for the teacher’s and police officer’s time needed to control the little animal?), or whatever — something need to be done so that the mother is made to realize that her daughter can not be permitted to act this way. This girl (and many undisciplined brats just like her) are headed straight for the penal system or the welfare line — an undue burden on society either way, even before we even consider having to deal with such people in our own lives. (Today’s brat is tomorrow’s asshole!)

If the mother can not be moved, then perhaps we need to bring corporeal punishment back to the classroom. If the one person who can discipline the child refuses to do so, then someone has to be given that authority — or the child is lost.

In this case it well may be too late.

*I don’t consider all lawyers to be slimeballs… but there sure are a lot of them who qualify. (and a cheery “hello” to all my “non-slimeball” lawyer friends and readers 🙂


Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Instapunk challenges Noam Chomsky to a duel:

[Noam Chomsky is] a professor of linguistics at MIT, widely regarded as the preeminent genius of his field. He is also an amateur political scientist, which has made him a longtime mouthpiece of the far left. This is supposed to entitle him to what I call the Borrowed Universal Respect Privilege (BURP), much in vogue among liberals since the late 1960s, and since I do not subscribe to its rationale, I should explain what it is and why I reject it before proceeding to what will be perceived as mean-spirited vitriol in my discussion of this clown.

BURP insists upon us the notion that a person who has attained renown and acclaim in one field automatically possesses sufficient ‘gravitas’ to be accorded a respectful hearing in other fields. For example, Rob Reiner has made successful movies, he has played a sixties liberal counterpoint to the ultimate conservative bigot Archie Bunker, and therefore, when he speaks out on contemporary political and social issues, we should regard him as a pertinent voice[…]. By the same logic, I could argue that Michael Jordan should be credible as a Wall Street analyst, and Luciano Pavorotti should be qualified to manage the New York Yankees. It’s remotely possible, of course, but highly unlikely.[…]

…I’m willing to conclude the Chomsky discussion with the theory that he is [a] phony BURP intellectual[…]. On this basis, I am prepared to publicly debate Noam Chomsky on any subject, at any place, at any time. I throw down the challenge because I am here, in this place, declaring him a narcissistic pseudo-intellectual lacking the authority to speak on any subject.

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer leftist jerk. Go read the whole thing — it’s all good. (For space I chopped out a huge chunk from the middle at the ellipses. Oh, and even more from the beginning and end. Just go! Geez…)

Oh, and just for the posterity:

Borrowed Universal Respect Privilege (or Principle) (a.k.a. “BURP”)
n.: The notion that a person who has attained renown and acclaim in one field automatically possesses sufficient ‘gravitas’ to be accorded a respectful hearing in other (esp. unrelated) fields.

I’ll have to remember that one.

Hat Tip: Michelle Malkin

I’m a Geek

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

I’m very happy. I braved the wilds of mod_rewrite long enough to finally smooth over the transition from my old blog software to the new.

See, with my current software, the address for a particular post looks something like this: <>. (That’s the address for the first post — #1).

With Greymatter, my old blog software, the link looked like this: <>.

To further complicate things, when I first switched to WordPress, I left in the “archives” part of the addressing, giving us this style of address: <>.

That’s three distinct types of addressing. Three different addresses for every page that existed using my old software — almost a hundred pages. As is common with the web, other sites have linked to mine over the couple years I’ve been blogging, so it would be unneighborly (to say the least) to just switch over my links and leave any incoming “old style” links hanging. What to do? My first (relatively unsophisticated) response was to put up a page for ever single old entry, that in essence read “Hi — this page has moved to <here>” with a link to the new-style address. It was clumsy, but reasonably effective.

But the kludginess of that bothered me, for a couple of reasons — first, I wanted visitors to be redirected seamlessly to the page they wanted, and second, that same seamlessness would smooth over the transition with regards to all those search engines out there if I could only fit a 301 redirect (e.g. “this page has permanently moved”) into the mix somewhere.

So… to make a long story short (I know I know… too late!) I’ve set up the server to “rewrite” any old-style URL in /blog/archives/… to a nonexistent “redirect” directory (for example, “/blog/archives/00000001.htm” is rewritten to “/blog/redirect/1”), and then use a plain old 301 redirect to point anything addressed to “/blog/redirect/” back to plain old /blog/. Thus, clicking on any of the following:

ultimately takes you to the same address,, and if a search engine pointed you to the old-style address, my server tells the search engine that the page has moved and to update its info.

I have no doubt that anybody reading this falls into two groups… those who find it interesting and have made it this far, and those who stopped reading after the first short paragraph. As I said, I’m a geek — I find this stuff fascinating. Considering how much I’ve heard about how hard it is to learn mod_rewrite, I’m amazed how quickly I figured it all out, but it seems to be working perfectly. (I was already familiar with Regular Expressions, which was a huge headstart!)

Off to bed.

New Math

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

I just popped out to the store for a dose of my favorite candy. As I’ve been trying to watch my fat intake a bit lately, I happened to flip the package over and take a look at the nutrition info on the back.

Serving Size: 1 package (33g);
Servings Per Container: about 2;

I suppose you can argue that one is “about” two, but methinks the fine folks at Storck need to proofread their wrappers a bit better.

Well now they’re just making stuff up.

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Some MIT students have created a computer program that randomly churns out bogus research papers. One of those papers was accepted for presentation at a scientific conference.

They should be shoe-ins for that opening at CBS.

(Yeah, I know…. Fish. Barrel. Ka-Blam!)

Hat Tip: The Volokh Conspiracy