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Journal Journal: A Job for Christmas

Well, I got what I really wanted for Christmas: a job. Having been unemployed since October (September, really, since I knew I was going), has been a real bummer, espescially since it meant having to leave the U.S. and return to Canada. The telecom bust has been particularly tough on those of us on the bleading edge of core routing -- there just isn't the demand for capacity that was expected. Not since 1933 has the stock market had three down years in a row (and a fourth is quite possible), so I view this as a sector-led depression.

In my case, my career has taken a shift from embedded telecom to automated testing for advanced digital television products, which matches well with my personal interests in set-top boxes and routing MPEG2 vides around my house.

While I am very grateful for the news of my employment offer (that I heartily accepted) on Dec. 24, I can't help feel somewhat melancholy for the candidates that were not selected, and all others seeking work. The only advice I can give is: hussle, hussle, hussle. Your present full-time job is "selling" your skills. Above all, try to not let depression sink in -- treat every job lead as a potential job.

I surely hope 2003 will be better than 2002 for all.

User Journal

Journal Journal: So long, and thanks: a Canadian's likely journey home 1

Well, it happened. I was recently informed that my last day with my employer would be in about a month. My vacation for the year was paid out and I was offered a nice severance package. Time to join the ranks of the high tech unemployed. Except, my case is different: if I don't line something up PDQ (before my employment ends), I'm on the next plane to Canada. See, I'm a Canadian high tech worker on an H1B visa, until recently hopeful of getting a "Green Card".

I know. It's tough all over, Americans should get first shot at jobs, and I knew what I was getting into. True enough. You won't hear any "why do I have to leave?" sob story from me. If I wanted to reap all the benefits of being an American, I'd have to become an American, and that meant all the INH hoops toward a Green Card, a five year year wait after that before I could become a citizen. One does not walk into a place and automatically share in all the societal infrastructure benefits. Still, I wish it didn't take so long to jump through the INS hoops: I had two approved LCs which died when I had to change jobs -- and the clock on the H1B visa runs out pretty damn close to the amount of time it take for the Green Card process to complete. O.K. Enuf of a rant against the INS.

So, here I am, scrambling to either transfer my H1B to a new employer or get a position on a TN1 visa before my present employment ends. After that, it's "So long, and thanks for a taste of the good life". I will be returning back to Canada, where the job prospects are even more dismal than here. Naturally, I'm also looking for jobs in Canada, and a place to stay there as well -- my potential address there is suddenly "inconvenient" to my would-be hosts -- completely understandable. Unless something specific turns up, I'll be looking to rent a three bedroom house or townhouse around Ottawa or Hull. I hope my unemployed status wouldn't be a problem, as I could pay a year's rent in advance, if necessary. I could return to the U.S. if a job turned up (at least on a NAFTA TN1 visa), but I really don't want to put my family through any more moves unless we wind up close to where we're we'd be leaving: Dallas, TX.

Ah, Texas. Everything is big in Texas (funny, living here hasn't affected my "size" any, though). The houses are big: we live in a 3200 square foot two story home, with 5 bedrooms, most with walk-in closets, and 3 full bathrooms. We "waste" 16000 gallons or water a month watering the lawn alone. We can afford to pay people to mow our grass, take care of our bushes, and the lawn is watered with an automated sprinkler system. We have a private pool for our subdivision (Americans are big on "subdivisions", it seams: when we lived in Illinois, for example, we lived in "Countryside West", as opposed to "Countryside". For some reason, our subdivision's snootiness garnered greater house prices, and a hotter market). We could never afford a comparable lifestyle in Canada, on a software engineer's salary. For the time we've been here, America has been good to us, and I don't regret the risks we took for one minute. It does sadden me that many Americans I meet have no idea how fortunate they are. We came here with a certain amount of m in Canada, and would likely leave with three times that after five years. A damn good ROI for any "investment", not that we really looked at it financially. But, the party, likely, is about to end. At least we can say that we gave our two year old son the gift of American citizenship: he can chose between the heavily socialist Canada, and the more "survival of the fittest" U.S. when the time comes.

If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it is that the our kids (9 y.o. daughter, and 2 y.o. son) will learn that life is not all roses. As many parents, we have spoiled our kids, though often inadvertantly, as we too have come to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.

So, the future remains uncertain -- if there are any employers in the Dallas, TX area or anywhere in Canada, I'd like to hear from you (If you're really intersted you can find my resume on my home page via slashdot -- I didn't intend for this reflection to be a plug for my services: I hit the job sites and network with people I know for that). Perhaps now, I can update this journal more frequently. I don't know what the future will bring yet, but it will likely be interesting.

User Journal

Journal Journal: A rant to remember

I thought this rant worth preserving.

An unlocked door does NOT imply a "big honking sign that says 'enter'".

Ah, but it certainly does, as far as the Internet is concerned. You are making the traditional mistake of comparing cyberspace to meatspace, where your statement would be true.

The internet may not have been intended to be designed in the spirit of an open community, but that's how it turned out: it was used as a collaborative research tool for the exchange of information. Things were made available with the implicit cultural assumption that copies were free to be taken and examined. The meatspace analogy would be a community where the norm was that people were free to wander into any house, and look around, just not damage anything. If there was a door, just jiggle the lock if it's stuck. People asking about FTP passwords weren't rebuffed, they were told about "anonymous" and were gently asked to leave their "email address at the door", as it were.

While some security was available, in terms of password-protected telnet access, the general rule was that you didn't put stuff on an internet connected computer that you'd mind becoming public.

This culture extended to the development of the WWW: it was designed as a way to facilitate the sharing of information enhanced with links to related stuff: all pages were equal. The concept of "deep-linking" didn't make sense -- it mattered more that you could get to a page of interest.

Fast forward to commercialization, constrained-navigation (so you're forced to see ads), and the desire to use the open community's communication mechanism for virtual private communication (VPN, duh, but also plain old SSL and IPSec encrypted traffic). Enhanced privacy, security, and constrained site navigation are exceptions, not the rule. There are legitimate reasons to support these, you can beef up security if you wish, but, and this is the kicker, when it comes to "old-net culture", the onus is on you to lock things down and not presume that the norm is "stay away unless invited". Rather than a community of homes, the analogy is a mall of stores, public libraries, and free art exhibits, inviting and open to all.

This is why I wrote "If you don't understand the Internet, stay the fuck away."

Here was a peaceful, cooperative community, that helped provide the means for secure communication to those that wanted it, and wound up getting culturally hijacked by people who refuse to accept that there are certain customs to follow if you really want people to not look and stay away.

We gave them an "Http-Referrer" field for <insert deity here>'s sake. How arrogant of the "thou shalt not deep link" hounds to not use it. It's like someone building a two-way road and a bunch of idiots insisting on driving on the "wrong" side because it's the "right" side where they came from. Funny, Yanks drive on the left in the U.K., Brits drive on the right in the U.S.A. Perhaps when someone whines about the curious seeing what they oughtn't in an ignorantly open site, the data should be blown to a bunch of mirror sites, like car parts thrown from an auto collision.

You know, those that designed the internet protocols should have patented them (you can patent a protocol, I think), and used the clout to take away the right to play on the net from those that refused to adapt to the lingua franca's idioms. Of course, they probably would have to assign such patents to the DoD and others, so that dream is a bit foolish, but the lesson should be learned: if you don't want others to pollute and poison what you make, you need to protect it from those that would try while making it available to all others (which is why the GPL is so brilliant a concept, though it appear we need to get some clue-clubs to help enforce it).

O.K., I'm out of breath, so this rant is over. Mod me down as you will.

User Journal

Journal Journal: It's been a while -- been awfully busy. 3

Yeah, I've let this journal go by the wayside. Stuff has happened, of course, but tending to it has been a higher priority than writing about it.

OTOH, I recently posted a comment in response to a DRM Conference article on /., and thought it worth preserving. So, here it is (the hyperlinks and some of the highlighting is lost):

The case FOR DRM

<flame suit on>

No. Really, a case can be made for DRM... just not the DRM envisioned by the cronies at the various AAs out there.

Let's examine all the bad things about DRM:

1. It kills fair use. Well, yes, but that's an implementation detail. It need not have to. In fact, I'd argue that it should be legislated that any mandatory DRM mechanism should protect fair use rights (and I generally hate more laws). That this scenario is unlikely is an attribute of the political climate and intense content provider lobbying rather than a defect of the principles of DRM. But, imagine a DRM mechanism which automatically releases copyright material into the public domain when the copyright term expires.

2. It stifles "sharing" and enforces "property" rights on things which shouldn't be property. True, but that is a legal and philosophical debate. The fact is that people are generally willing to accept restricted licenses for using something in order to pay less to have access. IOW, I can either pay an artist big bucks to record an album for me, or hope he records one, and don't undercut his efforts to sell them for $10 a pop once I have my copy. A third option, popular in the 1950s for classical music recordings, is to have content produced by prior subscription: when enough subscriptions are sold, the recording is made and distributed to the subscribers. This strikes at the nature of copyright itself, and whether it should have a moral and legal basis. While the existing terms are outrageous, and the music industry probably does gouge artists, DRM is nothing more than a tool for enforcing an agreement. It is the reasonableness of the agreement that should be examined, not the tool.

3. DRM stifles creation of independent content and raises the barrier to entry for independent artists. This is true if (a) DRM use is always mandated, (b) content is difficult or expensive to protect, and/or (c) content designed for mass distribution is difficult or expensive to protect. If this is the case, then clearly DRM is being exploited to restrict access to production and distribution channels: it may prevent you from making an unprotected video for your grandmother or it may prevent you from streaming samples of your music free to anyone in order to get recognized. I don't discount this as a goal of the nefarious AAs out there. However, that's clearly abuse of a monopoly or oligopoly and should be exposed as such.

4. People are too stupid to realize what they are about to lose -- they don't understand how bad DRM could be. Yes, people are stupid. Just look at what leaders democracies elect. But if we "hacking 3l337e" are incapable of educating them, then some of the blame falls on our shoulders. It may be tough, but replacing "stupid" above with "ignorant" (which is a curable condition) would not be a bad start. I am not suggesting this is easy: the public has been conditioned to accept restrictions of civil liberties in the name of preventing future crime (witness the whole DMCA fiasco and post-9/11/2001 "bend over while I rape your rights" hysteria). Yet, when it comes to accepting legislation regarding potentially very oppressive technologies, the state is generally "trusted". Nevertheless, attempts have to be made, including educating what few legislators may not have been bought yet, and are sympathetic to our concerns.

5. DRM will cause me to lose control of my computer. It will become a glorified TV. Again, this is certainly possible. However, DRM could also permit your computer to cache content that you have not yet licensed but are likely to, or keep secure other people's content. The issue isn't so much, Digital Rights ement, but rather the scope of what is Managed. No, it shouldn't be the whole computer.

That's still a lot of reasons to be wary about DRM as it's envisioned today. All the responses to concerns above are of the "yeah, but it doesn't have to be that way" form, and until we are sure it won't be that way, we are wise to be distrustful. But, it helps to look at a case where DRM would make perfect sense.

Webcam Now [] offers free hosting and download of webcam images, and text and voice chat services. Their site caters to "Friends and Family" (hmm, I smell a trademark infringement suit) as well as "Unmonitored" sections (yes, mostly free amateur exhibitionist porn). Anyone can get an account and upload images to their heart's content, to be served up to Java applets in viewers' browsers. The "free" view rate is 6 frames per minute, and a "pay" rate of 60 frames per minute is available for (I think) US$9.95 a month. This is rather generous, Jennicam [] updates free images at the rate of once every 15 minutes. Smart move, actually -- they're basically selling bandwidth on the basis of desired content that costs them nothing.

The (black) hack potential is obvious: say I don't want to pay $10 a month, but still want a frame per second refresh or I want to roll my own client (white hack). How can Webcam Now throttle access to their data? More importantly, how can they prevent me from redistributing the images I get?

The obvious answer is an authenticated communication channel that permits faster request rates and an encrypted channel between their image servers and my display. This does not make it impossible to capture what the display shows, but likely makes it difficult enough to thwart casual infringement and severely affect the resolution of what I capture.

Without DRM used to keep the image data secret between their servers and my display, those images could be redistributed anywhere. What if someone scrapes them for their own paid "amateur porn" site outside of the legal jurisdictions where Webcam Now operates? While I'm sure the exhibitionists who use Webcam Now's services don't mind being seen, they'd probably be pretty miffed if someone's making a tidy profit from their free shows: the $9.95 a month probably seems reasonable for Webcam Now to collect per fast viewer to pay for the bandwidth, but heck, if the viewership justifies image scrapers, why not set up their own adult site? They'd leave Webcam Now, and much of the fast-streaming revenue would dry up. While some might exploit the exposure in order to break into the professional porn industry, the true amateurs would probably be upset: somehow being presented as an "unmonitored" video is different than being scraped and represented as "hard core slutty filth". I'd bet that paid fast-streaming porn subsidizes much of the free slow-streaming parts of that site, including the "family" stuff.

On a related note, what if a couple want to do a private long-distance "show" for eachother? Whether they chose to record their cyber-sexcapades or not, they'd probably like the content to remain unviewable except on certain equipment, lest it be redistributed. DRM to the rescue.

Given that the pornography industry seams to be one of the early adopters of new technology (it is rumoured that it fueled the demand for VCRs), perhaps it should drive how DRM is implemented and deployed.

The other aspect of this is controlled access to bandwidth. As it stands, Webcam Now uses trivial encryption on their images, and trusted Java applets to not pull images faster than permitted. While an authenticated session could result in traffic throttled at the source, this requires the server to enforce the stream-throttling policy. As anyone knows, the less a server has to do, the better it scales. Letting the client enforce the access rate policy is a step in this direction. However, once the client application is cracked, it's game over. The current solution involves either accepting the policy enforcement on the part of each server, or a multi-tiered approach where dedicated aggregation and policy servers sit between client machines and data servers. This works rather well, but increases operating costs: the more work you can off-load to the client, the cheaper your operation becomes. However, securely off-loading access policies to client PCs is not possible without DRM.

So, where does this leave us? DRM certainly has legitimate uses, and need not be overbearing or invasive. In fact, it should be deployed in very restricted areas, where secure computing or encrypted content needs to be managed. Example include secure client-side web proxies, display, and audio devices (though it's value in the latter is questionable since "adequate" resolution analog recording is so easy). It should not be a ubiquitious part of a central processor, nor should it enforce draconian measures that are unconstitutional. The burden of complying with constitutional fair use rights should lie with the DRM implementer.

<flame suit off>

User Journal

Journal Journal: Subwooferitis!

Well, trying to mate a sub to my new B&G Radia 520dx speakers has proven to be a hassle. See, I'm too cheap to spring for a Velo HGS-12.

But, I came across a fellow that designs and builds subs, with a good reputation, to boot: kyle AT (Please don't spam him, but he welcomes inquiries). With his help, and an on-line crash course in speaker acoustics (I now understand Fs and Qtc, among others), we came up with an 85l (19" cubed, outside) enclosure (Qtc = 0.6 for tight bass) for a 12" Dayton Titanic Mk. II driven by a Hypix HS 200 plate amp. Should go down to around 18Hz, room loaded.

The HS-200 is nice in it's own right: Linkwitz-Reilly cross-over, with adjustibe high and low pass frequencies (though 80 Hz for the mains is fine), infrasonic filter, and adjustable bass boost. This should be a breeze to mate with my main speakers. (Perhaps I should get two and run a stereo pair! -- nah, let's start with one).

Best part is price: under (significantly under) $1000, assembled, and shipped to my front door.

Oh yeah, the people at Bohlender Graebener are REAL nice: I ordered a set of spiking kits (they DO make a difference, esp. in tightening up what little base the Radias have). Well, instead of standard shipping, they Fedexed them second day air, but only charged me standard shipping. The difference was only around $4, and I was happy to get them sooner, but still: this is customer service at it's best (i.e. "we made a small mistake, you don't pay for it") Great company.

User Journal

Journal Journal: I got my speakers!

Yay! My Bohlender Graebner Radia 520dx speakers arrived last night!!

They are very nice, just as described. The seller was willing to drive the 25 miles to deliver them personally so I agreed to pay him what the estimated shipping charges would have been, over and above, the agreed upon price. It seamed only fair, and avoided the need for escrowed payment. So, I paid immediately with a certified cheque upon delivery and satisfactory inspection.

While being full-range speakers, they do roll off at 80 Hz, and would do well to be crossed over to a decent subwoofer for more demanding pieces.

User Journal

Journal Journal: New Speakers!

Well, I decided to treat myself.

My 20 month old son had destroyed the ribbon drivers in my Carver Amazing Silver Edition Loudspeakers. It would have cost $550 plus shipping and insurance to get them repaired. And, unless I obtained some socks for them (which, AFAIK, don't exist in that size), it would be likely that the problem would repeat itself. (The drivers are VERY exposed, and to curtail his activities in the house to the extent necessary prevent a repeat would either be cruel, or require boxing up the speakers). So, I went shopping and picked up a pair of Bohlender Graebner Radia 520s for $1075 on ebay. Yay for me!

With luck, they should be delivered today (seller was local and agreed to deliver -- payment upon satisfactory demonstration of operation). I just have to decide what sub I want to cross them over to: they cut off at 80Hz and warrant a subwoofer. I'm torn between the Velodyne SPL 1200 or HGS 12, but unless I can find a cheap HGS 12, I'll probably have to settle for the SPL 1200.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Strange Journal stuff 3

Funny... looks like some of my entries got edited. Not that there was anything controversial in them, but whole paragraphs are missing. Oh well.

I got my income tax refund last week, so I can now fix the A/C in my wife's car. I found out that, yes, you can kill tresspassers after dark, but it must be "justified", i.e. they're armed and endangering your life, or they're trying to make off with your property, and the only way to stop them is shooting them.

Wierd Texas Law: purple lines eight inches long, one inch wide, on trees or posts, with the bottom three to five feet off the ground serve as "No Trespassing" warnings. I guess that solves the language problem (i.e. "No habla english"), or does it? I'm still debating surveillance camera types, but am leaning toward fixed cams (no pan-tilt-zoom) with IR illumination. I also want to raise a fence to discourage crossing my yard to the alley behind as a shortcut to the middle school -- I don't really mind kids doing that, but if one of them gets hurt, I'm liable. The trouble with the fence is that it would have to cross an easement to the utility company, and would have to be shared with a neighbor (two gates with locks, maybe?... with a removable centre section across the easement?)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Bummer

Wife's car got vandalized early Friday morning (March 29): driver side window was shattered and run channel deformed, most likely by having been struck by a blunt object like a baseball bat.

Of course, the geek in me is considering all sorts of security surveillance systems now, though I hadn't considered the expense worth it before. I'm told you can kill trespassers here, after dark, though I wouldn't undertake that course of action without checking with a lawyer first. While I usually garage the cars, this was the one time I had them out because I was rearranging the junk inside. Though garaging them solves the immediate problem of a repeat occurance, other acts of vandalism (spray painting, etc.) would not be deterred by this, and excessive night lighting would disturb the neighbors.

Time to think about a surveillance system. Hopefull, I can rig one up for a not too exorbitant sum.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Work, work, work...

Obviously, I've been busy (at work), and haven't had time to write. I'd like to share some information about what I'm working on, but that would not be appropriate without the approval of my employer.

I think that I'd get it, because it isn't that earth-shattering, but the trouble to get it would impact on other people's schedules (who are also busy) and would not be a nice thing to do.

I have been thinking about a filesystem utility on my own time, and coding it up, that involves trees of symlinks to permutations of paths in a master tree (think of having several alternate rearangements of a filesystem hierarchy) and might describe that later.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Yawn 1

Like I said, busy, busy, busy.

I worked from Tuesday 8:30 AM to Wednesday 5:30 PM, with about 4-1/2 hours off for food breaks. Finally got some sleep from Wed 8:00 PM to Thu 8:30 AM.

The marathon session was productive, and, suprisingly, rather refresshing. There's something to be said for seeing the sun rise after an all-night hacking session.

I did get a chance to read the RMS biography by Sam Williams last weekend. I rather liked it.

Oh geez, I see I've got two +5 main topic posting ratings in a row. Time to watch to see if I get modded down -1 Overrated and see my karma drop to 49 again. I've got to learn to post things not so insightful and/or interesting that reviewers get carried away and overmod me up.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Busy, busy, busy... Book!

I haven't been writing here because I've been very busy at work. However, my copy of Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software" arrived today. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. This is definately a book worth buying from O'Reilly: I was pleasantly surprised when I found that the $22.95 price (plus shipping and handling) provided me with a hard cover edition.

Oh, yeah, it is licensed under the GNU FDL, so you can share it, and it appears that an on-line electronic copy is or will be available here.

I had submitted news of the publication of this book to slashdot, but, alas, my submission was rejected.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Might have weekend off 5

I haven't been writing here much lately, partially because of work-related project deadlines. However, I have been thinking a lot about SSSCA and the kinds of "anti-circumvention" devices that might be remotely acceptable. Search /. for my postings on the subject.

It does look like I won't have to work this weekend though. Yea! I get to clean the house. Er, maybe !Yea.


Boo. I got more work from my boss. We've all been working a lot lately (nights, weekends) so I'd feel guilty if I didn't come in and get started on this latest enhancement to my previous work while others were here. Still, I was hoping for a weekend off for a change.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Finally got some paintings up

We moved into our new home in August, but only yesterday did I manage to get some paintings up on the walls.

Got the lawn care contract established for this year too.

User Journal

Journal Journal: "If I had a shotgun, I'd blow your head off..." 1


... sheesh! That's what my wife told me today, after having set the alarm clock for 8:45 instead of 8:30. It had been set at 6:45 and I really didn't want to hold down the semi-busted 'minutes' button for an eternity, so I just advanced the hours -- she had to go to a Baha'i meeting at 10:00, so 8:45 was fine. I don't take too kindly to those type of direct death threats, but the've been going on for a while. Perhaps I should start to take them seriously.

If I don't work, I'm a cheap, lazy bastard. If I do work, I'm an asshole for not cleaning the house (she stays at our home on which I pay the mortgage). If I don't cook (after a rough day at the office), our kids don't get a hot meal other than something out of a can. But arguing over domestic responsibilities is something I can stomach - direct death threats aren't. Perhaps I should seek a lawyer and catch her good and get her sent up the river, as it were.


So, I am in a rather bad mood. Perhaps it will improve.

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