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User Journal

Journal: Ouch, banned from Slashdot

Journal by The I Shing

I got a little hot under the collar reading about these "intelligent design" people trying to shove their back-door creationism "theory" into the mainstream scientific discourse, and went off on a bit of a rant about it, even making a completely incorrect literary reference, and when I tried to reply to my own post making a joke about it, I got a message telling me my posting is temporarily disabled! I didn't even know that they did that. Funny thing, too, my ranting post was actually 20% Troll, 20% Funny, & 20% Insightful, but for some reason those couple of Troll mods got me kicked off the boards.

If I'd offended any right-wing Christians with my post, good. I'm sick of them. Get off my TV.

Slashdot.org

Journal: Been a bad week for me on Slashdot

Journal by The I Shing

Oh, man, two bad posts in a row... one modded Flamebait and one modded Troll. I guess I'd better start thinking a bit more before I hit the Submit button. Kind of reminds me of being a kid and saying something I thought was really funny or insightful, only to have everyone around me stare at me wide-eyed, mouths agape, unable to believe that I'd just said something so utterly awful. I'm a nice guy, really! Everyone around me just loves me to death. Or do they?

Patents

Journal: Patent analogy

Journal by The I Shing

Sometimes an image comes to mind when I think about big issues like corporate giants battling over patents.

When I was reading about the battle over the JPEG patent issues, what came to mind was an image of the USPTO being a tiny ice cream truck that drives slowly around suburban neighborhoods handing out weapons-grade plutonium.

I hate being one of those guys who whinges on about the originl intentions of the Founding Fathers, but I'm really sure that if they knew how the patent system was going to be used they'd never have implemented it.

When I think of an overworked, underfunded government agency handing out broad exclusive rights to basic technologies left and right to pretty much anyone willing to pay the application fees, it makes me want to pull my own head off.

User Journal

Journal: The Moronic Parable of the 10th Man

Journal by The I Shing

A while ago I came across the "Parable of The 10th Man," which was quoted in its entirety in a William F. Buckley column, and has appeared in numerous conservative blogs and columns all over the web.

I'm not going to recount it here. Just search for "The 10th Man" and maybe throw in the word "parable," and you'll find it easily enough.

Please go read the parable before you read the rest of this, if you haven't read it before.

The thing about that parable that infuriates me is that whoever composed it never specified what the men in the parable were having for dinner!

The parable falls on its face on this point, and I'm disappointed that I cannot find any challenges to it online, so I'm posting mine here.

The bill the men all pay at the end of the "dinner which they all shared" obviously represents the total tax burden of all stripes of Americans at all economic levels, and the portion each man pays obviously represents his proportionate tax burden.

But what is represented by the dinner itself that they're paying for?

Since we Americans pay taxes based on what we earn and what we own, I would assume the dinner represents what the men earn and what they own.

To make the parable represent reality, it needs to include the following details.

The men arrive in the restaurant, and the man who pays that big whopping percentage of the bill is treated to a sumptuous 7-course meal, with bottle after bottle of rare wine and exquisitely prepared gourmet food and dessert. The waiters hover around him anxiously, flattering him and offering him delicacies the likes of which few men ever see, let alone taste.

The other nine men are all kept well away from his table so as not to disturb him while he eats, or, for that matter, to even be permitted to see what it is he's being given to eat. They sometimes catch a glimpse of the 10th man's meal as it's being brought to him, and can only wonder what it would be like to be served such fare.

The middle-level men, the ones who pay between $12 and $18 or so, are given a meal equivalent to a value meal at Wendy's. A burger, maybe, or a chicken sandwich, some fries, and a coke. If they're lucky, maybe there's a piece of prepackaged pie or a cookie.

The man who pays $3 gets one single hamburger, and is kept out of view of the middle-level men so as not to disturb their eating.

The men who pay nothing at all get a couple of packets of ketchup, and are given the opportunity to go and beg for scraps from the man who has only a hamburger. If they're lucky, they can get a little piece of a roll to put their ketchup on. Sometimes they sneak over to the area where the men are eating their combos and steal a french fry or two, but when they're caught, they are punished by having their ketchup packets taken away.

When the final bill comes, the middle-level men are actually paying more than two or three times as much as they really should be paying for their meals, and are justified in grumbling about it.

The man who pays $3 got the hamburger he paid for, and not a scrap more.

The men who pay nothing at all got more or less nothing at all.

And the 10th man is actually, in the end, paying a lot less than the actual cost of his meal, because the middle-level men, the ones who had Wendy's combo meals, subsidized a substantial portion of his bill, because God knows he's not going to cough up the whole amount. He's got mansions to build and private planes to buy.

So the reason the men lynch the 10th man is because when it is announced that the price of the entire meal is being lowered, it's obvious that over in his secluded area, the 10th man had a private discussion with the owner of the restaurant (who represents the government that is charged with the responsibility of protecting ownership and privilege for all Americans) that resulted in his being allowed to pay even less for his massive meal, and that he'd assumed that throwing a tiny discount to the people who were actually paying for much of his portion of the bill would mollify them to the point where they'd not question why his bill was going down by so much more than theirs.

What the proliferation of this parable makes clear to me is that wealthy conservative people share a kind of "let them eat cake" world-view, in which the only difference between themselves and poor people is that poor people pay less taxes. This ludicrous story is used by people like Buckley to purport the idea that every American is sitting at the same table enjoying the same dinner, as if a single mother of three living in a crime-infested, roach-ridden slum somehow enjoys the same standard of living as a multi-billionaire in his mansion.

I have grave doubts that any rich person has ever had to lower his standard of living because the government was taxing him too much.

User Journal

Journal: OfficeMax has new rebate program

Journal by The I Shing

I had previously written about being jacked up by OfficeMax, but now they have a new rebate system that prints the form for each item onto a rebate receipt, eliminating the need for sending in more than just one sheet of paper and the UPC.

I just bought a hundred bucks' worth of stuff yesterday, and eighty bucks' worth is coming back as rebates, or so they say. Filling out the forms is a bit of a headache, and sending them in is annoying, since all the rebates go to one or two locations, but have to have different promotional codes written on the envelopes. Is it worth it to spend two minutes filling out a form and 37 on a stamp to get $2.39 back on a roll of packing tape? I guess it is if my time isn't all that valuable.

Patents

Journal: The end of PanIP or a new beginning? 3

Journal by The I Shing

The website at youmaybenext.com, which chronicled the struggle of a group of medium-sized e-commerce companies against PanIP's claims of patent infringement, now states that the group has settled the whole thing.

The message board and all the pages within the site are now gone, and there's only one single page that briefly outlines what happened.

But big fat question marks are all over the place. What happens now? The fifteen or so defendants who banded together to fight are off the hook, at least as far as PanIP is concerned, but what about the dozens of others? Has PanIP dropped all of its suits, or just the ones against the members of that group?

At the bottom of the page is a sort of cryptic quote: "Don't let the things you can't do stop you from doing all that you can," which I take to mean that among the things that couldn't be done was to utterly defeat PanIP and prevent its founder from continuing his campaign of lawsuits against e-commerce companies.

Back in January, the founder of the PanIP Group Defense Fund had placed a warning on the site that PanIP was sending threatening letters out to businesses who had previously been left alone. Were those letters a last-ditch effort by PanIP to generate the capital necessary to continue the fight over its patents? Or was PanIP anticipating settling its way out of paying the $19,000 in legal fees awarded to the defense group following a determination by at least one judge that PanIP's defamation lawsuit against the group was an illegal SLAPP under California law?

Should e-commerce businesses breathe a sigh of relief that PanIP has backed off, or should they be more worried than ever? If PanIP starts up its campaign of lawsuits anew, will the next round of targeted companies similarly band together to fight off the suit?

The former website of the defense group states that both of PanIP's e-commerce patents are facing re-examination by the USPTO. The "automated sales" patent has been under review since August, according to the old version of the site, which never mentioned that the other patent was actually under review. If they are indeed both under review, can PanIP even file any new lawsuits?

I do not mean to denegrate the defense group in any way... standing up to PanIP was, in my opinion, the correct and brave thing to do. And, at the same time, carrying on the fight when an olive branch is offered with few, if any, strings attached would have been foolish. I don't blame the defense group for opting out of a longer, more ugly fight, and I salute them for standing tough as long as they did. Just getting the patent office to re-examine both the patents was quite a feat, one that very well might get both patents invalidated and send PanIP packing in the end, after all.

But if the patents are re-affirmed, you can bet that a whole lot of businesses who'd never heard of PanIP or its patents will be hearing all about them real soon.

User Journal

Journal: Picked up another "foe"

Journal by The I Shing

I feel flattered that people have developed strong enough feelings about what I write that they would bother to switch their relationship with me from Neutral to Foe.

Interestingly, out of curiousity I took a look at how the comments of a recent "Foe" were moderated, compared to my own comments.

Here are how my comments were moderated of late:
Funny, Funny, Funny, Interesting, Funny, Interesting, Funny, Interesting, Interesting, Interesting, Funny, Interesting, Insightful, Offtopic (oops), Informative.

Here are the ratings for a guy who recently made me his 'Foe':
Troll, Informative, Troll, Troll, Insightful, Funny, Funny, Funny, Interesting, Interesting, Funny, Funny, Interesting, Flamebait.

Hmm. That kind of sums it up. A funny, insightful, interesting, flamebait Troll made me his 'Foe.' I guess that makes me human.

Enlightenment

Journal: Identity theft... now I know what it feels like

Journal by The I Shing

It can happen to you
It can happen to me
It can happen to everyone eventually

You know those commercials with the old lady talking with the voice of the guy who stole her identity? Well, that commercial has a special meaning for me now.

Imagine me talking in the voice of some guy in the Philippines who's walking around buying gas and, apparently, noodles, with my Visa debit card number.

I check my bank account nearly every day, and, about an hour ago, after almost five years of using the card without incident, I noticed a series of mysterious transactions originating in a town called Makati, which a quick Google tells me is in the Philippines. One was a "service center," which I assume is a gas station, and the other was a noodle restaurant.

I immediately called my bank's toll-free automated lost card phone system and reported the card stolen, and got a confirmation that the card can no longer be used and a new one will be sent within one week.

Of course, where they got my number from is anyone's guess, but it's obvious that the person using it is walking around with a dummy card. The gas they must have bought at one of those pay-at-the-pump deals, where no-one sees the card, and the noodles they may have ordered over the phone or on the internet using the card number.

I'm going to give updates and share what happens just so anyone else this happens to can get an idea what's in store.

My next step, of course, is to go to the bank and get the two spurious charges, and any others that might show up, removed. That shouldn't be hard... I think they'll take my word for it that I wasn't in the Philippines yesterday buying gas and noodles.

Lesson learned: when using a debit card, watch that bank account every single day. One's account can be cleaned out in a matter of minutes. Use a local bank, so charges can be easily disputed in person.

I have mixed emotions about joining the legions of credit card fraud victims. I guess it had to happen sooner or later. One can expect to deal with it eventually, I guess, when one uses one's card, especially online, and now when the topic comes up I'll have a story to tell. I just hope the story is going to have a happy ending.

Slashdot.org

Journal: Picked up my first Slashdot 'foe'

Journal by The I Shing

Finally picked up my first Slashdot 'foe' today.

I never thought anyone would take such umbrage at a post of mine that he or she would set their relationship with me to 'foe,' but it's happened.

Apparently this person is annoyed that I quoted a bumper sticker that was printed and sold in response to another bumper sticker, and that they both had to do with guns.

What is it about guns that gets people so riled? They yell at me, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," and I reply, "Yeah, people with guns kill people, and usually kill people who don't have guns themselves, or at least don't have one handy." And I guess that makes me a liberal namby-pamby who doesn't realize the glory of having the ability to end the life of another person at one's fingertips.

No, I don't think guns should be illegal, necessarily, but I don't think we all need to have closets full of them, either. One hunting rifle, two shotguns, two handguns (one revolver, one semi-automatic) and a nice locked case to keep them in is all one really needs. I have exactly none of any of that. I can't be trusted with a can of dust-off, let alone a firearm of any kind.

User Journal

Journal: Quoting People Out of Context

Journal by The I Shing

There's a user on this system who shall remain nameless (but among my comments is the text below in reply to his comment) who uses a signature that I believe underscores the right-wing mentality when it comes to getting one's facts straight, which is, precisely, that actual facts don't matter.

Here is how the user's signature reads (copied and pasted in case it gets changed):
------
"there should be an unlimited right to fill up your mailbox with e-mail." -- Democrat Robert C. "Bobby" Scott
------
I looked up the transcript at house.gov, and here is what was actually said by Bobby Scott (copied and pasted from the transcript itself):
"But there should be unlimited right to fill up your mailbox with-- your e-mail mailbox-- with unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail?"

He was asking that question of Joseph Rubin, a witness at the hearing, during an exchange where Rep. Scott was trying to get Mr. Rubin to clarify his position about what "spam" really is, and how it might relate to various Supreme Court decisions and the First Amendment and all that. It was a long and complex exchange between several representatives and various expert witnesses, full of questions, answers, clarifications, and minute details, the way congressional hearings always are.

For this Slashdot user to alter the text and punctuation of that single line of the hearing, the transcript of which is 53 pages long, in order to make it appear that Rep. Scott supports the right of spammers to fill up people's mailboxes, is morally corrupt and utterly dishonest. If it wasn't for the awkward and outrageous wording of the statement as it appeared in the sig, I wouldn't have felt compelled to look it up, and might have taken it at face value myself, thinking that the spammers have a Democratic friend in Washington. Maybe they do, but I don't think it's Bobby Scott.

This is a common tactic by right-wing pundits, to pull a sentence by a member of the opposing party, yank it out of its context, edit it, and present it as a direct quote, and then, either directly or by implication, declare, "Ah-ha, this liberal Democrat is in favor of this disagreeable thing," when, in fact, the statement being "quoted" is a question, or was a paraphrasing of someone else's position. I've heard Rush Limbaugh do that countless times. A liberal politician could say, "Some people are assuming that I'm in favor of shutting down industry completely," and a right-wing firebrand like Limbaugh will trim off the "Some people are assuming" part and quote that politician as saying "I'm in favor of shutting down industry completely," and then yelp, "See? SEE? He's a monster! He wants to ship your jobs overseas and then raise your taxes!"

Even the mainstream press is guilty of this, but the right-wingers seem to have invented it.

Media (Apple)

Journal: I'm over my irritation with my iPod

Journal by The I Shing

I've gotten over my initial irritation at hearing about the iPod going to 15gb just weeks after I got mine for Christmas.

I'm happy with the iPod... ecstatic, really.

Now the g/f is thinking about buying one, and she has a PC! She doesn't even have a Mac and she'll have a better iPod than me, and can get hers engraved, to boot!

Oh, well.

Media (Apple)

Journal: Damn Apple Computer! Curse their bones!

Journal by The I Shing

After getting my beloved 10gb iPod for Christmas, I find out that I could've kept it in the box for a week, taken it back to the store, and gotten a 15gb one for the same money!

Aaaarg!

I'm irritated.

I still love my iPod, but it burns me up that Apple waits until after Christmas to unveil their new higher-capacity low-end iPod, right after a zillion people bought the previous model at full price. I'm sure a lot of new 10gb iPod owners are frothing about it right now. Or maybe they aren't. Maybe I'm the only one.

I should have known they'd pull a fast one like this. I should have just kept the iPod in its little black box for a couple of weeks, just to see what would come down the pike. Instead, predictably, I ripped the box open Christmas morning and immediately plugged the iPod into my iMac and watched all the magic happen.

Media (Apple)

Journal: Used the iPod at the gym for the first time today

Journal by The I Shing

For the first time today I used my new iPod at the gym. That was pretty cool. It's neat being able to listen to what I want to listen to instead of whatever music happens to be coming over the loudspeakers.

And now I seem to be suffering from "moremusicitis," in which I keep wanting to go back to the store and buy some other band's "Greatest Hits" CD so I can have more, more, MORE music in my iPod!

I think I'm going to start downloading MP3s from independent bands' websites... I've got to expose myself to something new. I can't just keep listening to Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, and The Stones for the rest of my life.

Federal grants are offered for... research into the recreation potential of interplanetary space travel for the culturally disadvantaged.

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