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User Journal

Journal Journal: Power of the Corporation

So on Slashdot this evening is an article about how MediaDefender is trying to explain its actions when it seeded a bit-torrent server that Revision3 operates with bogus files, and when Revision3 altered the configuration on its bit-torrent tracker to stop external seeds, MediaDefender performed a denial of service attack on Revision3. Now, a good portion of the comments circled around how if this had been done by an individual, they would already be in jail, the prosecutor would be warming up his speeches, and the judge would be looking at maximum sentencing. But because this was caused by a corporation there is no way they will be found guilty of a crime, much less be charged with one. I truly hope that justice is served in this case. We cannot allow for vigilante justice on the Internet. But in case the nay-sayers are correct, it gave me an excellent idea...

Blackwater for America

People for years have been saying that corporations have been able to get away with murder. Well, what if we created a company which did just that? Lets call it company XYZ. And we would need to give it a legitimate excuse to exist. Say private police force. We could protect the rich from the crazy masses who want to kill them. This serves two purposes, it puts us in touch with the rich people who really run this country, and feeds on their paranoia. In addition, we would have a super secret department, which we would protect in NDA agreements with employees, corporate secrets, intellectual property concerning business practices, etc. This would be the wetworks dept. which would perform domestic assassinations. The way I see it, there are 3 ways they could perform their work.
1) Stage an Accident - If it looks like there was no foul play, why investigate?
2) Witness the Event - If you kill someone in cold blood, but have 5 guys to tell the police that he was only protecting himself from this madman who was about to kill him, it will never go to court.
3) Leave no Evidence - Kill people in a way which leaves no forensic evidence, if there is no evidence, the investigation will be incomplete.

I like this idea because as a chief officer of such a company, you have the ability to kill your enemies as well as the enemies of people you wish to do favors for, and if the government catches wise, you have several options: Rely on your customers to help you out, "If the government shuts us down, who will protect you from the crazies?" Play the scapegoat, "This wasn't some company sanctioned event, this employee went crazy and took it upon himself to kill that person!" I would hope by this time some political favors have been processed, "Remember that message we sent to Senator X by silencing their child? You really want that coming back to you?" Or even the good old standby, "You shutdown this company and your district will be responsible for the loss of a lot of jobs, as well as a large contributor to the tax base. Is this what you really want based on a misunderstanding? An accident?"

Then again, who's to say such an organization doesn't already exist? -Paranoid and cynical

User Journal

Journal Journal: Going to School 1

Last evening there was a discussion about how a high school kid would ever be able to afford to go to his first choice in schools (MIT) as his parents weren't willing to help foot the bill for his education. He felt that going to another CS school where he would not be able to express himself fully in his creative CS talents would compromise his future.

Being someone who went to a not-well-known school, I do not feel as if my future has been compromised by not going to a well-known school. If you want to go to a well-known CS school, there are plenty. Comments in the article mentioned UC Berkley, and Purdue has been mentioned plenty of time on Slashdot. However, to provide counterpoint, I must mention that in the Ph.D. program I am currently enrolled in, one of my fellow Ph.D. students has both his BS and MS in CS from MIT. Do I think differently about him because of his background? Hell yes! For just about everyone in the industry MIT is known as the gold standard in CS - the school and program that most other schools strive to emulate! So yes, if you walk into a new job sporting a degree from MIT, your street credibility in computer science will have already been proven.

However, it is not just the end results from going to school at MIT that is so special. I have talked with my MIT friend at length about his education in Boston. The theme that always seems to run through our conversations is about environment. The environment of Boston as an open environment. The environment of MIT as a learning environment. The facts that you are surround by so many others to think like you, act like you, have similar senses of humor as you, and who have had similar backgrounds as you. Top if off with professors who "get" you, laboratories designed around freedom of expression, and access at all hours day or night. This is not a corporate, 9 to 5 environment - this is a learning environment designed to accommodate the student.

Not being able to pay for MIT is a shame. It is not the end of the world, but it is bothersome. For me it is especially bothersome considering that many schools assume the parents are going to assist for the first few years of education, and most financial aid programs are based on that assumption. If your parents can afford to send you to school, you will be denied financial aid, whether or not your parents do help pay or not. Irregardless of the fact that once you turn 18 your parents can change the locks on the house dump your crap on the front lawn, and never have a thing to do with you ever again.

I have many opinions on how our educational system is messed up, but this is not the time to go into detail on my opinions. Sufficed to say that this event (not attempting to be the best you can be because of worry concerning cost of education) is another example in how our educational system is screwed up, and needs to be fixed.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Pot, meet Kettle 3

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black...

I saw a link in the signature of one of the discussion points here on slashdot point to playfullyclever.com with the link "fix slashdot." I know I have my problems with Slashdot, but what do others think is broken? Being the curious individual that I am, I thought I would see what kind of complaint this individual has about the site upon which I spend so much time. It linked to another slashdot style discussion site, mostly the interests of one individual and their soap-box from which to talk. Almost a page down, I found what I was looking for, a link to a page where the individual listed what they felt was wrong, and what they wanted done about it.

Their complaint? That slashdot discouraged open discussion, and encouraged group thought. The post encouraged moderators to mod up dissenting points, even if the moderator disagreed with what was being stated, and only mod down obvious trolls (like GNAA, FP, etc). Very admirable goals. But, what are you adding that isn't already in the moderation guidelines? Oh, did I mention? This link was in an article stating why they troll Slashdot, and ends with the remark, "bring back the slashdot we all knew and loved."

So let me get this right - you are actively trolling slashdot, increasing the amount of noise, just so you can make the site better? You are destroying what you like because you think it will fix the problem? It never ceases to amaze me how the minds of some people work. Maybe they watched one too many b-movies when they were young, and now think that all things can be fixed with violence, mayhem, and disruption. It reminds me of the guys from the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) who incite eco-terror in order to "protect" mother earth. Like the lodge in Colorado that they burned to the ground because the builders were giving it a log-cabin look, and ELF had a problem with them using tree trunks. Well, now, instead of cutting down X number of trees, the builders had to cut down 2X number of trees. Way to save the earth, guys!

So instead of finding like-minded individuals, writing a petition, and suggesting a real change to Cmdr Taco, and other editors of the site, they would rather shout out at the top of their lungs, ignoring all others (I tried to post my comments on the site, only to find out that they do not allow anonymous posts - score another for Slashdot and freedom of speech). To be honest, I don't think that the problems that they think are wrong with Slashdot are technical ones. I think they are sociological ones. They cannot be fixed by any technical development, and trolling will only make the problem worse. I think in truth, they are the very problem that they are bemoaning. Their action encourages others to act in an underhanded manner that makes people second guess whether a dissenting post is real, or an attempt to incite readers. Instead of thinking the problem through, and finding a real solution, they would rather yell "Look at me!" and hope that the chaos they are bringing somehow makes it all right again.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Win Win proposition

After reading today's article about "When Would You Accept DRM?", and reading some of the comments, one stood out in my mind.

While I am sure the poster wrote the comment in jest, he does have a good idea, if applied differently should benefit all parties involved. Why not put a deposit on music you are borrowing? Let me explain: You visit a site, and register to use their music "borrowing" service. For every song you want to "borrow" you pay a set deposit fee (say 0.99, or since we know we are borrowing, 0.50). For as long as you are a subscriber to the service (with a nominal overhead, service, or administrative fee - say $1 per month) you can continue to listen to your music as much as you want, as long as you use the music as intended. Once you cancel the service, the music stops working - a la Napster - but the service refunds your music deposit of .99 or .50.

With this business model, while you have limited access to their music, they have limited access to your money. While .50 may not be much, if you have over 1 billion songs being borrowed, that is 500 million in funds that the company can invest and get a return on while they are in posession of your money. The company earns its money from investing your money while they are in posession of it. The administrative fee covers e-mailing or snail mailing account information to you, as well as sending you a final cheque or debiting your account when you leave the service. You gain access to songs that you want to listen to at a small fee.

What about the artists? They have the option of taking a cut of the borrowing fee when it is paid by the listener, or they can claim partial ownership of the fee as it is invested, much like taking part in a mutual fund, and they can either cash out at anytime less an administrative fee, or they can get a percentage of the fund when the listener returns the song.

Lets put this all in perspective. Lets say I want to borrow song X by artist Y. I pay the company $0.50 to download song X with all of the DRM included. Lets take several scenarios with the artist. If the artist has a contract with the company that asks for his funds to be taken out right away (lets be generous and give the artists 10%) he would get $0.05 immediately. The company invests the money while I am listening to my borrowed song. Lets say I listen to it for 3 years before I decide to return it. Lets say that in the 3 years while I was listening to the music, the company invested my money and tripled it. They pay me my $0.50 back, give the artist his cut of $0.15, and they keep the remaining $0.85.

That is how the system would work, but in real life, it would look more like this: 40,000 people pay $20,000 to download 40,000 songs this month. The company invests that $20,000 into its own aggressive growth fund that may be worth millions of dollars. Lets say that during that same month, 1000 people quit the service or "return" their songs. The company withdraws $500 from its own fund, and pays back listeners their deposit. Making calculations on growth from the time those listeners borrowed the music until now, the company withdraws a set amount of money per rental/per artist, and seperate the funds out into accounts for those artists, and send cheques to those artists. The fund continues to grow, and is only touched to pay salaries (this whole process can easily be totally automated) and pay out fees to artists and listeners.

Wow, thats not half bad. Time to write another business plan!
User Journal

Journal Journal: Pirating Software, and Doom3

From a recent slashdot article:

The next question centered on pirating, and of course much was made of copies downloaded a couple of days before the release. In fact id staff was in Hong Kong a few days before the US release and they found pirated copies being sold with full packaging.

CEO Todd Hollenshead particularly hit away at this issue. It is his belief that pirating only hurts the industry particularly as game production becomes more expensive. He feels studios like Looking Glass may be around if it wasn't for pirating. He worries that continued pirating will lead to a gaming world of movie games and focus group games only which is not good for anyone.

Oh, man, where to begin? I love games, and I was willing to plop my $50 down to play Doom3 the day it came out. What I can't understand are those who insist on shortchanging the developer who worked so hard on producing the game. But it seems that game developers are in a lose-lose proposition. Make a poor game, and word gets out, and no one buys it. Make a great game, and no one buys it - they download a free copy off the Internet instead. Truth be told, after playing the game from beginning to end, I would have been willing to pay up to $100 for that game, and the incredible experience it created. But I know I am in the minority, and would have had a hard time coughing up $100 without knowing what I was getting into.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine who the day I purchased my copy told me he was downloading his copy off the Internet. When I steered the conversation towards how his actions could hurt the developer, he brushed it off saying that he would be willing to buy it when it came out, however living in Europe delayed his ability to purchase a copy for another week or so. (Being that a week has passed, I should ask him if he bought a copy, or completed the game and has no desire to purchase a game he already played. My guess is that id software won't see a dime from my european friend despite his good intentions.)

I made it well known at work that I was playing the game. I placed the box cover on top of my cubicle, a tradition that several of us gamers have created in the office. One of my colleagues asked if I could make him a copy, and I told him my stance on pirating software, and that I would not make him a copy, and encouraged him to purchase a copy for himself. After all, the game does not cost that much, my colleague is single, and is well compensated for what he does. Surely he can afford it! He accepted my position, and the next day asked if I could bring the game into the office. I felt it wouldn't hurt to show him, and others who had expressed interest in the game what all the hype was about. I do not spend my entire day at my desk, and by mid-day my Doom3 disks had disappeared. When they returned by late afternoon, I started asking questions. Turns out my friend had "borrowed" my disks, and my cd key, and made a copy for himself - after I had expressly told him my feelings about the subject. Needless to say, I am rather upset by my colleague's actions. He claims it was to see if it would run on his machine/was a good enough game to play. I find both claims bogus as he could easily find the answers to both questions online.

What I can't understand is why. Why do people insist in cheating hard-working, honest software developers. Don't they understand that they are only hurting themselves? What happens when John Carmack and the other owners decide that id software is no longer profitable, and take all the millions of dollars they made on their previous games and call it quits? From where I am sitting I see that as a bad thing. If it weren't for id software, many of the games we play today would never have been developed. id software drives hardware and software innovation. Many software studios exist to modify the id 3D engine to produce other games. id software practically invented 3D on the computer, and their current innovations drive development even further. Despite all the hype surrounding both Far Cry and Half-Life 2, both engines are technically inferior to the Doom 3 engine. The Doom 3 engine can do things (graphically) that neither Source, or CryTek can do, and that will be something that many developers will consider when they create their next 3D game; which engine will they licence, and will they live with the limitations created by an inferior engine, or will they use the Doom 3 engine, and be limited only by their imagination.

I know most people who make illegal copies find someway to justify it to themselves. The easiest one is "its only 1 copy, they aren't going to miss my $50." Problem is, it isn't just your $50 dollars they are missing. It is the hundreds and thousands of others who are doing it as well. If it was just you, then you would be correct, and they most likely would not even miss it. As it is today, you are one of many, and you are voting with your money. However, instead of saying, "Yes, this is worth your time and effort to develop," you are saying, "Your product is not worth the time and effort you put into creating it." You are discouraging the creation of better games. You are discouraging the advancement in technology, by denying the researchers of those advancements a monetary return on their time and effort to develop those advancements.

My fear is that one day I may be so outnumbered by those who want to pirate good software, that the developers who would want to develop good software will decide against it for fear that they will be unable to make a living on their creations.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Work and the Good Employee

In a recent Slashdot Article, gravitie asked: "I'm a developer in my local area. I'm on what is supposed to be 'flex time', so I can work the hours that my boss and I see fit for me to fullfil the number of hours I'm required to get a week. Besides this I must clock in at 7:30 AM every day I am at work. If I clock in at 7:31 I am late, no questions asked. If I am late 3 times in one quarter I get a verbal warning. Next time I get a written warning, then it just goes down hill from there (docked pay, etc..). Is this standard in todays business world? Should 1 minute late really be considered 'late'?"

Now, through some fluke of Slashdot, I happened to see this article before it was posted on Slashdot, and decided to write up a comment before I left work. When the next Slashdot article came up, and it wasn't the aforementioned, I e-mailed my comment home hoping to post it when it first popped up - hopefully later that evening. When it did pop up, just before I went to bed, I posted my comment and went to sleep - hoping to see the comments of the masses when I woke up. I wrote:

Are you late even at 7:31? One minute past? YES! Your employers set up the rules, as a good employee you should respect an abide by those rules. To be honest, it should never be an issue. You should make an effort to arrive at 7:00. That will give you plenty of time to deal with any unforeseen traffic conditions in your drive in to work, issues with weather, car problems, breakfast, etc. As well, if you are consistently early for work, your employers will take note, and will be impressed by your attitude and willingness to get started with your work! Those are the kinds of things which give you good reviews and get you better raises and help with promotions. You should never be late. You should strive to make sure that it will never be an issue.

When I did get around to reading the responces, I noted that a few individuals "got it," but that sadly most did not. They thought that employers who reprimand employees for being one minute late was naziesque, fascist, and NOT a place they would want to work. The point I was trying to make with my post was to encourage readers to look at the bigger picture. It isn't about being one minute late, it is getting to work in a timely manner so that tardyness will NEVER be an issue!

I think too many people look at employment in the wrong light. And with the current values of society, I can see how it is taking place. We view time as our greatest asset, and we feel insulted that our employers don't value our time as much as we do. Therefore, we try everything at our disposal to keep every second to ourselves. We push the boundries as to what is acceptable time for coming in to work, and what is acceptable for leaving work. We like flex time because that gives us as employees an advantage and allows us to "fudge" when we get in and leave, and skimp by with the least amount of time to stay "legal" with the company rules. Unfortunately, the only ones we are fooling is ourselves.

I have been employed with several employees who practiced those exact same measures, and like an anal retentive brother in law, make sure they only work 39 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds for fear that THE MAN is draining away their life without proper compensation. These are the people who will sit outside of the building before clocking in exactly when they are suppost to clock in, and are at the time clock with a stop watch to make sure they don't work one second over. And with all of their obsessing with how much time they give to their employer, they don't see that their boss is watching all of this, and taking note. Their behavior shows that they don't give one iota of interest in the company. That work is just that - work. They have no passion about what they do or who they work for as long as the paychecks are steady. And then what happens? They get passed over for promotion, their raise is standard, or substandard, and they feel as if they are being cheated, when in reality with their own actions they are cheating themselves out of a bright future with that company.

It's never about being one minute late. It is about showing devotion and dedication to a job well done. I know, I used to be the same way. But when the economy and job market conspired to keep me unemployed for over a year I was thankful to have a job! Any job! So I told myself that I would show my gratitude! I was required to come in at 6, but I made it my duty to come in at 5 or 5:30. I asked questions about why everything happened like it did. I wanted to understand the process that I was a part of - and in doing so, I made the process more efficient, and my superiors noticed everything that I was doing! When it came time for my review, I had and outstanding review with my boss gushing about how wonderful an employee I was, and my pay raise was higher than the company's stated maximum raise allotment.

I discovered that there are two sets of rules. One for all the poor saps who think that it is just a regular 9 to 5. And one for those who are willing to make a comittment to the company who was willing to make a comittment to them. Its not about being 1 minute late. It never has, and never will be. Learn this lesson well, and you will go very far in life.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Perceptions and Interpretations

Ok, so last night as I was flipping channels, and I came across Contact. I had purchased the DVD over a year ago, and was excited to see in the features that Jodie Foster had done a commentary for the movie, but had never gotten around to watching it. Since the version on TV was already half-way through, and I have no patience for commercials, I decided that I would watch the commentary with Jodie Foster.

Normally I enjoy watching commentaries as they often give insight into the story and characters that casual viewers are not privvy to. And lets just face it, some commentaries are just plain fun. Having Brendon Frasier sitting next to you watching The Mummy with you is just a riot!

But what got me as I was watching Contact with Jodie Foster was just how wrong I was about what was trying to be explained in the story, including one of the central themes of the entire movie! So I'm gonna use this space to talk about one of the minor plot points to the movie, and the major theme. Did I just not get it, or are there several different ways to explain it? Anyone else have thoughts?

In watching the movie, there is a part where she is in the capsule traveling through the wormhole, and as she looks around, her view of what is going on outside of the capsule follows her eyes, and where she looks. As I watched the movie, I always rationalized it as the metal of the capsule being sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, specifically to light in the visual spectrum. For example, after she is free of the chair, and turns on her flash light, and points it to the bottom of the capsule, it 'shines through' and she can see what is going on outside of the capsule. Thus to explain how the viewport followed where she looked, I always thought that something on her headset was doing something to the metal. Earlier in the movie they told her that the camera she was wearing could see in the ultraviolet as well as infrared spectrums. As many movies seem to skimp out on explantions, I felt this was one of those times, and was left my own devices to explain what I was seeing.

Jodie's explanation was quite different. That there was no viewport, there was nothing special going on outside the capsule, that instead what Ellie was seeing was a vision that was being provided to her by the aliens to help HER understand what was going on. Or at least put things into a perspective that Ellie could understand. The only flaw that I can see with that explanation is the translucency of the capsule's bottom as the machine is powering up.

While not a huge difference (unlike below), I find it fascinating to see how things like that could be interpreted differently. Are our different interpretations caused by our different understandings of the world around us? The philosophies and filters that allow us to comprehend the world we live in? Or was she "in the know" and I'm just totally off base?

Ultimately it is not a big deal. While I would be curious to know the answers to the above questions, I can most likely live the entirety of my life without that knowledge and not feel any less for it.

Most of us have experienced events that we cannot explain. Whether the events are explainable or not, we are ignorant to the pieces of the event that may help explain it to us. So most of use the Great Equalizer. God. An omnipotent being that can do anything, and is unpredictable in her/his actions. (I say her/his because I believe that God is a woman, who gave the gift of creation to the female gender, even though the act requires both sexes to initiate the process.) Some people use the Great Equalizer as a crutch, and take little time to understand the world around them. Instead they rely on God as an explanation for everything, from wars to famine, from birth to death, from how the fish breath to how the birds fly. It is God's will. Other people, like myself, rarely use the Great Equalizer, if ever. What we do know, we understand through learning. What we don't know we explain through the existence of God. For Jodie's charater Ellie, she had never used the Great Equalizer, instead saying that what she doesn't understand, she does not know enough of - yet. Her character is always looking for the truth, and a logical explanation. According to Ellie, her father did not die because it was his time, or it was God's will, he died because his pills were in the upstairs bathroom, and it took too long for her to run upstairs to get his pills. If they had been downstairs, she could have saved him.

Her entire life can be explained through logic up to the point where she takes the 'trip' in the machine. Suddenly she is presented with something that cannot be logically explained. The conflict between her logical side which acknoledges that what everyone saw happen happened, and her senses and emotions that experienced the trip will not allow for any kind of resolution between the two. It is my take at the end of the movie where she appears before the pannel is that she finally joined the rest of humanity. That she finally had an event that she cannot explain. She had an event that her philosophical filter of the world around her could not process. She may not use the Great Equalizer, and join the 95% of us who are suffering from 'mass dilusions' (quoted from the movie), but she has experienced something that she cannot explain, and I felt in watching it, that she finally joined humanity, because of that event.

I should throw in more detail, as the entire movie is a treatise about how science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive. But if you are familiar with the movie, that should suffice.

Jodie's take on it was almost the exact opposite. That because of the event Ellie was even more isolated than before. She experienced an event that no one will ever be able to relate to, or experience. She is now alone in the world because of her trip.

So, here is the big question. How can my perception and interpretations of one of the major plot points in the movie be so drastically different from what the actor was trying to portray?

Is it the actor's fault? I've always seen Jodie Foster to be one of the best actors in the world. The work she does has been thought provoking, intelligent, and it seems to be well researched. She is a master of conveying emotions, and ideas with a facial expression. She is well adept at her profession, and has awards to prove it. I find it hard to believe that she was tasked with expressing something that she could not present correctly to me, the viewer.

Is it the writer's fault? Carl Sagan was one of the preeminent writers of our day. And while he may have had little to do with the screenplay, the screenplay was based on his book, and from what I understand Carl was involved in the production of this movie. I find it hard to believe that gross negligence on anyone's part in the writing team would allow for an interpretation that is vastly different from what was meant to interpreted.

Is it the director's fault? Robert Zemeckis, the director of Cast Away, Forrest Gump, the Back to the Future movies, What Lies Beneath, Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabit, and Death Becomes Her failed to ensure that one of the major points of the movies was properly conveyed is laughable in the least. No I don't think it is Rob's fault.

Perhaps it was meant to be open to interpretation. How I might interpret it is different from how a friend sitting next to me might interpret it. Perhaps how I understand what is going on is filtered through my own philosophies that only allow me to understand it in a way that is comprehensible to me. Perhaps it is the fact that after seeing this movie many many times over the past 5 years, being told that my understanding of it was totally wrong is rather grating on me.

Am I the only one to not get it? Anyone else see it like I did? Anyone else see it in a different way? Please post, I welcome your thoughts.

Artificial intelligence has the same relation to intelligence as artificial flowers have to flowers. -- David Parnas