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Comment Computer Missues Act 1990 (Score 1) 572

Section 3 "unauthorised modification of computer material" being the relevant element. There isn't, I think, an existing case which exactly mirrors this, but it is similar to the matter of "time locks" in software (where a program disabled itself after a given time). For a long time after the passage of the act, lawyers theorised that such locks might be illegal in some circumstances; the prosecution of Alfred Whittaker in Scunthorpe Magistrates Court in 1993 showed that it could be. But crucially in Whittaker, the locks were unknown to the customer (the company on whose computer the software was installed) - I don't think anyone thinks that time-limited trialware ("this software will stop working in 28 days unless activated") is illegal.

So whether FDTI are in trouble will depend on what expectation someone might have when installing the new driver (where the court assumes they actually read the licence screed). If the expectation was solely that it would improve their system or do nothing, they weren't giving consent, and FDTI may be found to have breached section 3. If the licence unambiguously said "this update will detect and disable fake or work-alike products without further interaction", they're probably fine. Likely the wording is much less clear, which is what keeps lawyers in jobs.

If all the bricked chips are counterfeits (that is, they have fake FDTI markings and have been passed of as real FDTI products), the Fiscal is probably going to say that a prosecution isn't in the public interest. The authorities, often working with trademark owners, have routinely seized counterfeit goods from unknowing individuals, with no compensation; they may argue this is an analogous case (sweeping analogies is what keeps judges in jobs). But if someone has been making FDTI workalike clones that aren't pretending (to consumers) that they're the FDTI product, their customers would have a better chance of twisting the Fiscal's arm.

Comment Re:Rail System (Score 1) 135

Most Russian launchers are delivered just this, including Soyuz, Proton, Energia (including Energia/Buran). They're horizontally integrated (as opposed to the VAB's vertical integration) and placed on a cradle. The cradle is moved, on rails, to the launch facility, where the cradle boom tips the launcher vertical and it's integrated with the launch gantry equipment and (excepting at least Soyuz) the hold-down system. An exception to this is Soyuz operated from the ESA site, which are vertically integrated on the pad using a giant mobile building - once the integration is complete they open the huge doors on that and the building rolls backwards (I think on rails) and moves back far enough for it not to be damaged by the Soyuz' launch.

Comment The Shire Calendar (Score 5, Interesting) 725

The most elegant solution to the calendar I've seen is JRR Tolkien's (yes, him) Shire Calendar:

  • It's fully conformant with the astronomical realities (no magical even-divisions or date fudging necessary)
  • There are still 12 months (so no weird decimal months, no 34th of Thermidor bollocks). You can stick with the familiar month names (rather than Tolkien's Hobbity ones)
  • Each month is 30 days long (simplifying accounting, pay calculations, holiday accrual etc.). No pointless variation, no mnemonics.
  • Year on year, a given month always begins with the same day of the week. Even for leap years. So if you were born on a Tuesday, your birthday will always be Tuesday.
  • The clever part (which allows all the other stuff to happen) is there is a winter festival holiday (2 days) and a summer festival holiday (3 days normally, 4 in leap years). These aren't week days and aren't in a month - they're special. So e.g. Christmas doesn't change between sometimes being in the weekend, or adjacent to the weekend, or midweek - Christmas is always in the same place. I know I always get disoriented around Christmas - Christmas already seems like a special day which doesn't resemble a Thursday or a Sunday or whatever - the Shire Calendar is just a realistic expression that it's not a weekday, and that it shouldn't be regarded as one. And the first day back at work after Christmas is always a Monday.
  • The winter and summer festivals are pretty consonant with common practice in many countries anyway. Move Christmas into the yule holiday (Jesus wasn't born in December anyway, so it's no less Biblically correct than current practice). Many countries have a midsummer festival or summer bank holiday and US independence day can be celebrated then.
  • You only need one printed calendar (not the 14 different types we currently need) - you just score off the leap year or not.
  • Its easy to fix the locations of other festivals, like Thanksgiving, and then you get a perfectly consistent gap between e.g. Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • From a software perspective it's a wash - 2 more mini-months need to be handled, but less bother with differently lengthed months and much easier day-of-the-week calculations.

Comment hello lawyers, meet internet (Score 3, Interesting) 200

Technology companies are pretty good about properly integrating their marketing and public relations efforts into the business proper. So if they need to do a safety recall the PR people are involved in the process; a decent PR guy can turn "the XYZ-5000 sprays customers with burning acid" recall into "XYZ really cares about its customers, and as a lovely fluffy precaution we're fixing all our XYZ-5000s, even though most of them are perfectly super and don't experience moderate thermal variances". Engineering, QA, customer relations, finance - every department doesn't get to communicate with the public (or do anything that's obviously going to end up being public) without someone in PR there to make sure the message is put out right.

Legal departments, by dint of (often broken) corporate org-trees are a notable exception to this. When they see a problem, they fix it the lawyer way, and the rest of the company never knows until after the fact. In olden times of yore stuff like this was trivia between one legal office and another, and only the most nebbish of corporate historian ever know why a product changed its name or wasn't orange coloured any more. So the lawyers behaved as they always did, striking as quickly and as hard as they could, writing letters as outlandishly vitriolic and court pleadings as wildly exaggerated as they felt they could get away with, knowing that things would stay on the downlow and whatever happened only the outcome would matter to anyone.

They didn't consider that, if you sent someone a demand letter, the first thing they'd do is tweet about it to their entire customer base (which turns out to be a big proportion of your customer base too), and post the letter (with all its wild and crazy claims) on the internet, for everyone to point and laugh at. If it's the all-too-common shot across the bows (rather than a serious attempt) you risk looking like a rather unhinged bully.

Like it or not (and the lawyers don't like it, and decorate their broadsides with all kinds of "if you publish this letter we'll sue to for that too" stuff) everything anyone in the corporation does reflects on the whole outfit. The PR folks should be in on the ground floor with anything like this. They don't get to veto every lawsuit or every letter, but they can put a choke-hold on the stupid. Right now Zenimax's PR guy has his head in his hands; I'll bet the first thing he knew about the whole affair was when he read it online, and he'll spend next week fighting fires and soothing angry faces. Notch probably won't change the name, but if he does that's just another news cycle of bad PR for Zenimax.

Comment cellular ubiquity (Score 1) 198

They're not thinking about this for what we're currently call a "phone". They're looking at very small form factor devices which keep their data in the cloud, are configured by another (arbitrary) device which talks to the same cloud, and which make either sporadic or continual data connections with whatever available networks they find, to keep up to date. Imagine very small devices (wristwatches, eyeglasses, earplugs) with 802.11/UMTS/WiMAX radios (which use a mini-sim to identify themselves to whichever network they encounter). And they're thinking about these things as universal identifiers and payment tokens.

Right now you go running with an iPod. Instead you'll have a iPlug, a pair of little in-ear headphones, but with no cable and nothing strapped to your arm. You set up your music program on a tablet, and it seamlessly syncs. You run further than you'd expected, so the iPlug connects to the network and downloads more music. Miles from home your knee gives out. You touch the iPlug and say "taxi". A taxi comes (sent by Apple to the location the iPlug knew; Apple gets a dollar from the taxi fare, which you pay using the iPlug).

You have a iSim unit in your iWatch. You're thirsty, so you touch the watch and say "coffee shop". The watch face shows an arrow to a nearby one, and the distance, and walks you there. Apple gets a dollar. You buy a drink with the iSIM as a payment token (Apple gets 30 cents) and sit down at a table. The table's surface is an active display; it talks to your iWatch and opens a connection to your account in the iCloud. Your personal news appears, your emails, your documents. You do some work, browse some stuff, and when you're done you stand up and the table blinks off. Things will be as you left them when you next peer with an active display - at home, in the car, on the train, at the office, on the beach.

All of this stuff has been done, in various disconnected ways, already. You can pay for stuff with your phone, in some places. Most Europeans (well, Brits at least) have smart cards in their credit cards. You could hotdesk 10 years ago with a Sunray (kinda). You can unlock doors with a Dallas button token. Having super-cheap super-light totally ubiquitous networking makes the whole thing join up into a compelling, powerful, system.

You'll never be alone again.

Comment that's an interesting bank statement, mr salesman (Score 2, Insightful) 204

My company recently bought a used copier/scanner/printer, which had supposedly been reconditioned and cleaned. It included a "document server" feature, whereby jobs could be scanned to its internal disk (or print jobs could be stored in the printer for later printing). The salesman who sold it to us had helpfully left scans of his current account statement in the document server, together with some placating letters to other customers. After thinking about what uses we'd actually have, I decided just to turn the document server feature off for everyone. I did leave the deferred-jobs part on (as it's useful when someone is printing on weird stock or printing something confidential) - thus ensuring that anything left on the copier (the company is now defunct, the copier presumably resold) is guaranteed to be juicy.

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