Electronic Orwell

One of the things George Orwell did not foresee was electronic mail. At least he doesn’t mention it in 1984. Nonetheless, e-mail is a prime instance of Big Brother.

While an e-mail will usually be generated on an individual PC, as soon as the send button gets moused, the message gets sent to a mail server belonging to either the host organization or the Internet Service Provider (ISP). It then gets broken down into chunks that are sailed out across the internet to accumulate on the mail server of the (each) recipient. The e-mail then sits on that server until it is read and deleted by the recipient – maybe. Because of increased Yankee government reporting laws, both originating organization (ISP) and receiving organization (ISP) may keep a copy of that message.

This also gives rise to some interesting legal issues. Who owns that message? Clearly, it is neither the sender nor the recipient, but is it the organization of the sender or the organization of the recipient?

Regardless, there are copies of those e-mails on the organization (ISP) mail server and they are freely open to being inspected – unless they are encrypted, and more organizations forbid member encryption. So the organization looks at the message and determines whether its work related, liability free, and innocuous, even necessary. If not, wrath descends on the sender, and often, the recipient.

One example of this is the Yankee government. In the Washington Times feed this morning, I got an article on how the YG is cracking down on e-mail misusers.[Link] The bulk of the article is concerned with e-mail of a partisan nature, usually encouraging the recipients to support some candidate for office.

My first thought on this is that it demonstrates the stupidity (or, at least, ignorance) of these senders. Anyone who is brain handicapped enough to send out political e-mails over a YG network, knowing full well the impropriety and illegality of such under the Hatch Act, deserves some special accommodation – like being assigned to inspect the toilet paper rolls in the tinkleplatzen to assure that the rolls breaks over rather than under. I would have expected such people to have probably killed themselves in childhood by ingesting drain cleanser or setting their garments afire, but evidently some have slipped through.

All they had to do to avoid this whole thing was to copy the addresses onto a disk or memory stick, open a web mail account, and send the message from the web mail account. And if their organization has locked out removable file storage (Yes, Virginia, some of the executives in the YG are that paranoid and distrustful.) then they can print the list out, and then scan it in on another PC and run an OCR program. Yes this requires a bit of technical know-how, but it is less than what any reasonable adult would consider to be minimal PC literacy so even the lower three sigma of the civil service population should be able to do this.

What I find more difficult are the “Look At This!” messages. These are almost never partisan, except in a possibly negative sense, but they are almost always going to offend or even intimidate someone. The problem with them is that if you don’t control them, then you end up with high level disruption of the workplace with the offended filing grievances and lawsuits, and if you control them too much, the morale in the workplace is so low that people start carrying weapons.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of managers, and more executives (at least by percentage,) who think that the best employee is a bound, gagged, slave, preferably with surgical alterations along the lines of those described in The Child Buyer. This type of attitude is not uncommon in government, state and local too, not just the YG, because the politicians and the political appointees are the only real humans there. The civil and military service bodies are just that. Unfortunately, these attitudes slop over into things like e-mail so that an organization can go from being a robust, high morale group one day and one e-mail review later be stuffed into cattle cars on their way to the bureaucratic equivalent of Auschwitz.

Sadly, the fault also lies on the back of the sender. Some folks seem unable to grasp the idea that if you stick your hand through the cage bars to pet the lion, wou may not get your hand back.

Port Heinlein

I previously blogged about the good citizens of New Mexico, led by those of Dona Ana county, who had moved to topple the oligarchic pronouncements of the International Astrophysical Union and restore Pluto (SOL IX) to full planethood.[Link] Now, I see that the same folks have plans to build the Earth’s (Tellus, Terra, SOL III) first spaceport.[Link]

Los Cruces, the seat of Dona Ana county, is an effectively unique place. It sits sandwiched between Mesilla, one of the oldest legacy towns on the continent and White Sands Missile Range where the bulk of things that go “whoosh-boom” and “zap!” are tested for the ostensible benefit of the nation and the derivative benefit of aerospace corporations. It is also home of New Mexico State U, notable as the largest and most effective of the nation’s minority colleges. Needless to say, the place has a somewhat unusual demographic on the nerd and artistic axes.

I could not find a name for the proposed port so we may only hope that it is named after Bob Heinlein rather than Ephraim Cochran. Given that this has the aroma of “Sweet Ole” Bob De Kinder, there is every confidence the project will be successful and effective.

The Joy of Fluids

Several article over the weekend brought had to do with advances or discoveries dealing with fluids. For example, there was an announcement of a battery that runs of sugar water.[Link] Evidently these batteries are intended for electronic devices and are actually a form of catalyzed fuel cell rather than an actual accumulator.

Interestingly, the fuel cell works better if the liquid is not carbonated so this may not be a revitalization of original coke, now only available as (Passover) Kosher Coke and in areas where there are significant kosher observant communities.[Link] It does hearken us back to an earlier fuel cell than ran on urine.[Link] Which brings up a value of being diabetic. One can drink carbonated or uncarbonated sugar water and use one’s urine in either fuel cell.

But somehow I don’t see either as working well with (e.g.,) air travel, although given the way the television videodrama machine works I expect to see crime scene technicians solve some convoluted  demise by analyzing the  impurities in fuel cell fluid.

On a closer note, researchers have clinical trials indicating that the “Mediterranean” diet, which is high in olive oil, is as healthy for one as the American Heart Association diet.[Link]

Now if they would just do something about getting the saline content of restaurant and prepared foods down. How about a fuel cell that runs on sodium. I could put the food in it, run my laptop, and then dine on the remains.

Military Reality

I have blogged previously on how organizations demand loyalty from their members while often showing none to them, and how this is most pronounced in military organizations because of their focus on mission. In the case of military organizations there is also the class difference between members and non-members or civilians, who are often viewed as being lower on the social ladder than pond scum.

An excellent example of this came in this morning’s feeds from the Chicago Tribune.[Link] This article starts with a description of how a truck driver’s body was shipped home without any preparation other being placed in a coffin. The man was a civilian contractor killed in Iraq and by the time his body reached home, it had decomposed substantially.

According to the article, some 770 civilian contractors have been killed in Iraq while they were actually working. Civilian contractors killed while off duty are not counted since their survivors are apparently not entitled to workmen’s compensation. Also, the article does not relate how many civil service members have been killed in Iraq.

This needs to be recognized beyond the level of insensitivity and prejudice. While it may appear so, it is not. It is simply the way the military has to act to possibly be successful. We should also recognize that of almost all nations’ military organizations, America has a better history of minimizing casualties.

IP Addresses and Sex

One of the problems confronting large organizations is having enough Internet Protocol addresses for all of their members who have to sail the internet. Given the move to web based applications, this effectively means all of their members except the very senior and the very blue collar. The former still regard using computers as unworthy of their exalted position and have assistants who do their surfing for them; the latter are not viewed as needing internet access and their surfing is performed by a supervisor.

One of the tricks to ameliorate this short fall is to dynamically assign IP addresses. That is, when a user tries to access the internet, an IP address is assigned the user for the duration of the surf, then it is assigned to someone else. The catch 22 with this is that while the owners of the web site being visited know who owns the IP address of a visitor, it is only at the organization level and not at the individual level. To find that out, the web site owner has to get access to the organization’s logs of who that IP address was assigned to at a given time.

This is how the copyright Gestapo tracks internet violators, like those who up/download music and video from peer-to-peer sites. One of the most aggressive of these is the Recording Industry Association of America, who has taken several folks to court over this. So vehement are their activities that they have been compared to the original Nationalist Socialist Gestapo and the file sharers to Star-of-David armbanded Jews.

The RIAA’s first wave of litigations was directed at the “low hanging fruit” – the sharers with static (fixed) IP addresses. The second wave has been aimed at those who have dynamic IP addressing. The approach here has been to demand that the organization search through their logs and offer up the identities of the users that were assigned particular IP addresses at particular times. For Internet Service Providers this has preceded fairly smoothly because the ISPs don’t want to be sued themselves; also, they have scant loyalty to their users.

Now, I read in the Register feed [Link] that U Nebraska has told the RIAA that they will not track down IPs without being paid for it, nor will they prohibit peer-to-peer software. The reason for the latter is that the software is widely used for both teaching and research; for the former that they will not spend taxpayer money on the log searches.

Such an argument is not without some validity. Several Yankee government organizations have declined to search logs on the grounds that such are exempted from the Freedom of Information Act and outside the scope of their appropriated funding. The latter is supported by repeated Congressional punishment (and rhetoric) of organizations who have not fulfilled their appropriated programs.

Interestingly, there is no mention of any loyalty to the students, nor of the questionable practice of associating a particular PC with its owner. This whole thing reveals the rather disreputable nature of modern colleges. Their primary outlook is cash flow and their attitude towards students is dominated by avoiding any hint of liability. In other words, they are acting just like any other large organization.

Where does the sex come in? A recent study of the nature and density of erotic texts in the Eighteenth century indicates not only a greater than previously appreciated commonality of such but a derogatory, property attitude of men towards women.[Link] What makes these common is the opposite situation of copyright and the organizational view of juniors or outsiders.

The contrast of copyright situations is that in the Eighteenth century the only ways to copy copyrighted material was to write it out in long hand, or to own a print shop. In this environment, copyright was intended to protect against the latter; the former was too intensive to merit attention and too hard to discover. In the Twenty-first century, electronic information may be easily copied, so the issue of copyright is to protect the owner of copyright from the general copying. Clearly the environment has changed, but the thinking has only intensified in its rigidity.

Notably, in the Eighteenth century, women were largely limited to small, often ad hoc social organizations akin to students today while men were members of several larger organizations, including clubs where the literature were read aloud.

Happily beyond this point, the analogy disintegrates. We are only left with some hope that just as women have established their rights in society by changing attitudes of individual and organizations perhaps in we may be able to change restrictive attitudes on information sharing.

Thanks Mom

Courtesy of the New Yawk College of Dentistry, I see that tooth decay comes to us from our mothers. Indeed, it appears that Streptococcus Mutans, the bacterium that causes tooth decay, has coevolved with Homo Sapiens.[Link] What is not explained in the article is why the bacterium does not appear in infants’ mouths until they are about age two. Is this because the bacterium is not present in their bodies or because it cannot grow in the mouth till then because of some biochemical change?

Despite the gap in reportage on this matter, what is there does give some insight into why mothers are so assertive with their children about tooth decay and oral hygiene. It’s their fault! Candy and poor toothbrushing don’t cause cavities, Mothers do.

Given this prevaricating guilt transference, we come naturally to ask what other things we are held responsible for that are really the fault of our parents. Even more sinisterly, just how valid are those interminable guilt trips that our parents visit upon us?

Such remonstrances need to be brief and constructive. After all, we must recognize that mothers have a heavy enough job dealing with gestation, birth, upbringing, …. And fathers had to give up their freedom for us. That’s the price we pay for being humans with big brains and long maturation periods.

Copyright Wrong

When I was a lad, my parents would about twice a year drag me off to a “family reunion”. As a bookish introvert, this often did entail actual dragging to get me into the automobile. Once there, no amount of pressure would force me to socialize with other children who seemed only interested in arcana such as baseball statistics (without having any idea what statistics are,) or their shul companions’ doings. But I do recall a conversation I had with my great-uncle on the porch of his farm house.

This farm house was new and had wonderful modern conveniences like indoor plumbing, hot running water that didn’t have to first pumped and then heated, and electricity through plugs in the wall. The only bad thing about this house was that it was not the one his ancestors had lived in for six generations because the Yankee revenuers (his term for any enforcement part of the Yankee government) had stolen his farm to make a lake out of. As you may have gathered this dispossession was courtesy of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

My great uncle was fond of the game of checkers and while his board was the standard press board one could buy at any five and dime store, the checkers pieces were the remains of shotgun shells. I mentioned this to him and he replied that the pieces were made from the spent shotgun shells that could not be reloaded in relative safety.

In the years since, I have observed this type of behavior in many people. The behavior has to do with a thing and that which must be added to make it function. An obvious example of this is a flashlight and its batteries, for those who do not think in terms of firearms and their ammunition (or are afraid to.) The behavior is that one spends the most one can on the thing, but the least on the addition. Hence we purchase high quality flashlights but seek sales on the batteries that make them work, or even invest in rechargeable batteries.

The same applies to electronics. Even today most people will spend a considerable sum on a radio but believe what they listen to should be free – hence the difficulties of satellite radio. My parents felt much the same way about television although my generation has grudgingly accepted the idea of cable subscriptions. My generation sees little use in text messaging and often not only declines the service, but fails to comprehend its importance to those of my daughter’s generation.

The same carries over to copyright, as I was reminded this morning by one of my colleagues Magnetic Electric Fields, who sent me the link to a good Wall Street Journal article [Link] that talks about Digital Rights Management. The opinion expressed is that the law should reflect the rights of both information producers and consumers. While I agree with that, I also have to add that whatever gets done, it has a better chance of being effective if it acts with, rather than contrary, human and organizational behavior.

If we examine books, we find that copyright was introduced to protect authors from unscrupulous printers, not from consumers. As the technology to copy came into being and became cheap enough in the Twentieth century, the matter of individual copying came into consideration. This is where the concept of fair use came into being. In a sense, fair use acts to the benefit of the author in that by allowing portions of a work to be used for the purpose of increasing human knowledge and dispersing that knowledge, demand for the work of the author was increased.

This was also consistent with the outlook of the book purchaser that the book was a thing that was owned. As such, the owner could burn the book, give it away, loan it, or incorporate it into his life. Further, since the information in the book was not differentiated from the material nature of the book, at least in the mind of the consumer, partial copying seemed inherent in ownership, the same as allowing a friend to borrow the book. Also, the legal apparatus recognized that petty instances of this practice could not in practicality be punished.

This outlook does not appear to have been modified very much. I suspect Joe Consumer sees a license as only a certification of ownership in spite of its rhetoric. Computer software privacy follows directly from the behavior to spend the least one has to on making the expensive thing (computer) work. The same goes for audio and video files. Despite all the licensing legalese, the consumer sees these as owned property, not as rented property, and probably will for generations to come.

Thus, any law that ignores such, and is open to petty, universal, and unenforceable  violation will effectively be nullified by the actions of the consumer populace. The entire effort falls into the same category as teaching horses to sing – it irritates the horse and is ultimately doomed to failure.