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The Almighty Buck

Journal Journal: Livejournal: Attack of the V-Gift

Livejournal have introduced a new feature whereby a user can send (for free) a "v-gift" consisting of one of three pictures containing a prominent Pepsi logo to any other user. This image is then displayed in a prominent location on the recipient's profile page - more prominent than the user's actual profile information, which can end up pushed off the screen if enough are received. Since each account can send 10 per week and account creation is easy, this gives an effective way of harassing other users.

As far as I can tell, there's no way of blocking v-gifts or requiring that they be approved before they're shown, though they can be deleted by the recipient. This is probably why the profile of the official "news" journal used by Livejournal to make announcements is currently full of v-gifts. Needless to say, if you want to keep your blog or journal even slightly professional in appearance, Livejournal is not a good place to host it (if it ever was).

Journal Journal: The latest LiveJournal bannings

This is an attempt to briefly summarize what's going on at LiveJournal. Basically, two LiveJournal users got permanently banned (with no warning) for posting ponographic drawings of Harry Potter characters. Now, LiveJournal claimed (though not publicly) they were child porn, but the people in the drawings aren't obviously under 18 and the people in question didn't claim that they were. Unfortunately for Livejournal, one of the users in question was fairly well-known.

While LiveJournal probably didn't expect quite the backlash they got, they obviously expected some, so a few hours beforehand they rolled out some changes to the handling of banned users. There's a standard way of linking to other users - the "lj user" tag - and it used to show suspended or deleted users with their names struck through. They removed the strikeout, the link, and the icon identifing it as a link to another user, making it harder to spot when someone had been banned. In addition, they modified the code for journal profile pages to that these users no longer appeared under the friends/members lists except on the logged-in user's own profile.

However, there's also some interesting history to this. On the 20th of June (in the aftermath of the previous, bodged set of bannings) Livejournal made certain reassurances about their policy. This was shortly before a permanent account sale in which people could pay $150 for extra features, good for the life of their account (this option is not generally available). I think one of the two banned users was gifted a permanent account during this sale.

It therefore came as a surprise when, in mid-July, Livejournal posted this "clarification". Note the initial ban on "or other material -- including drawings and text -- that explicitly depicts minors under the age of 18 (real or not) in a graphic sexual context". This was an issue for many fanfiction writers and the like, and flew in the face of LiveJournal's June reassurances relating to fanfiction. (If you can't see why many Livejournal users would write this sort of stuff, think about their age and general nature for a bit.) After someone pointed out that US law didn't say what they claimed it did, they added that this would only apply to "obscene" works. However, it became clear that their definition of "obscene" was worrinigly broad (and, though IANAL, I suspect it's siginificantly broader than what the courts would be willing to find obscene).

The other two categories of banned activies were also subtly but significantly broadened. For example, note the difference between "No content which is meant to plan, solicit the commission of, seek customers for, or provide instructions for serious illegal activities which could cause harm to others" and the "Material that asks for assistance in committing illegal activities that cause serious physical/economic harm to others" clause. The latter makes it much easier to ban users for saying how to install libdvdcss, for example.


Journal Journal: They patented *what* now?

Looking stuff up on the Internet, I ran into US patent 6529975. I'm no patent lawyer, but as far as I can tell it's a way of getting around the limited number of registers in the AC97 specification by writing to one register the address of an extended register to access, then reading or writing the contents of that extended register via another AC97 register. For those not familiar with computer hardware, this is an old* and well-known trick. However, presumably because it hasn't been applied to AC97 hardware before, it's still patentable. This is why the US patent system doesn't work.

(To be fair, they do list an alternative technique that splits one register up and uses half the bits as data and half as address, but that's still not exactly non-obvious.)

* By "old" I mean "the video address generator used in the BBC Micro and the original IBM PC was based on a variant of this technique" (and that's just the first likely example I happened to think of).

Journal Journal: The Revolution controller and 3D desktops 6

Everyone's opinion of the Revolution controller seems to be either "that's really clever - Nintendo really did it this time" or "surely it'll never work?" Me - I thought "this is exactly the input device I need for that 3D desktop environment I was thinking about a while back".

Allow me to explain. A while back, I was thinking about 3D desktops/window managers - specifically, the practicality of creating one in which the windows are arranged around the user in a rough sphere at varying distances. I decided it'd be a cool idea, but interacting with it using a mouse would require way too many non-intuitive modifiers - especially if you wanted to be able to (say) tilt windows out of the way.

After considering further, I decided it would need a fully-3D six-axis input device. (Imagine if you could move and tilt windows in 3D using simple, intuitive gestures with your input device. Want to pull one closer? Push a button and pull the input device towards you. Tilt one? - just twist it in the direction you want.) Realising that there was no way I was going to be able to build one (and that I was too lazy to try), I abandoned the idea.

Then the Revolution came - with a fully-3D, six-axis controller that was almost exactly what I was looking for (except apparently better than I thought was possible). It was even wireless and one-handed. Is this the controller fully-3D window managers have been waiting for? Any comments?

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