The Crippling Power of the Human Mind…

Today I read an interesting article that elicited a healthy laugh from yours truly. It seems that an Irvine, CA inventor came up with a led adorned, radio controlled, reinforced foam flying toy that had local residents crying “Alien Abduction”:

Zingali, 58, was searching for help with his radio-controlled plane. Instead he found hand-drawn plans by a poster named Stringfly for something called a saucer.

“I was told – by engineers – it wouldn’t fly,” says Zingali, a former facilities specialist who recently moved to Phoenix. “There was no airfoil, no lift, no dihedral.”

He built one anyway. It flew, but couldn’t handle the wind. So he tweaked a few things and doubled its span from 18 to 36 inches. A phenomenon was born. Soon, Orange County motorists were chasing strange lights in the sky. Orange County’s Mutual UFO Network was taking calls about erratic, flying objects. And the Web site UFOinfo.com was posting reports of “glowing orbs” in south Orange County.

One 53-year-old man reported a large glowing ball that “appeared to drip fire.” It traveled about five miles in a few seconds, he said, and left an “acrid type odor” in the air. – [OCRegister.com]

OK. Lets review. What we have here is a 3foot foam toy with leds on it and a top speed of 40mph that, from observers reports, is bigger than a house, produces an acrid smell, (somehow detectable from its cruising altitude of 400ft), travels at 3600 miles an hour, and drips fire…

Amazing how our senses/perceptions can deceive us. Absolutely amazing…

UFOs baffle O.C. earthlings – [OhGizmo/OCRegister]

The RIAA Strikes Again!

In an interesting first, the RIAA has actually won an honest-to-goodness trial against a suspected file sharer:

 The Recording Industry Association of America won its first trial this week when a jury ordered Jammie Thomas of Duluth, Minnesota to pay $220,000 to six separate record companies — Sony BMG, Arista Records, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, and Warner Bros. Records. The amount covers 24 copyrighted songs illegally downloaded on her computer. – [Yahoo/TechWeb]

Now given the inconsistencies in her testimony, if I were a betting man, I’d say she was in fact guilty. However the damages were absolutely outrageous. And regardless of what anyone says, this win does not legitimize the tactics the RIAA has been using to hunt down suspect file sharers over the past 4 years. The moment they started suing people regardless of whether they were actually engaged in file sharing or not, the RIAA started committing extortion.

It is clear to me that the actions of the RIAA is no longer about managing copyrights. They are about income, plain and simple. And the damages are entirely out of control. Throw a bunch of people, half of whom might as well have been luddites, into a jury, and the RIAA can get away with anything.

RIAA Victory Sends Message But Won’t Stop File-Sharing – [Yahoo/TechWeb]

The “Pirates” take a stand…

An interesting movement seems to have spawned the desert of Utah. The US arm of a group calling themselves the “Pirate Party”, has proclaimed their intent to become a legitimate political party:

Yesterday, the Pirate Party of the United States announced its intention to register as a political body in Utah, its first move into American state politics. The fledgling Utah operation is now accepting “statements of support,” needing 200 voter signatures for official registration.

“Our basic mission is to restore a lot of the civil liberties that have been eroded in the name of profit, including privacy, free speech, and due process,” Ray Jenson, the interim administrator for what may become the Pirate Party of Utah, told El Reg.

He has his sights set on the DMCA, the U.S. law that protects online intellectual property, and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group that quite likes the DMCA. “Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, there have been numerous erosions of liberties since it went into effect almost a decade ago,” Jenson said. “Number one on the list is the RIAA’s litigation” against P2P services and the people who use them. – [The Register]

Given the amount of abuse the entertainment industry has been dishing out lately, it is almost no surprise that this group exists, though I will admit I had never heard of them until today. However, I honestly believe that the entertainment industry, in particular the MPAA and the RIAA have been abusing the law.

I do agree that the RIAA and MPAA have the right to take actions to protect their investments. However I also believe that they have been using this as an excuse to violate the rights of others. They have embarked on what is little more than an extortion campaign, or litigation terrorism, in the name of curtailing piracy.

While I agree that piracy is a problem, it seems like nobody has been looking out for the innocent victims that have been needlessly terrorized by the MPAA/RIAA. While groups like the ACLU have been vocal about the issues, it appears that their efforts have done little to helped those who have been the unjust focus of the entertainment industries legal might. It’s about time there was an organization dedicate to this cause. I will be watching these “Pirates” closely…

Pirate Party invades Utah – [The Register]

The Fermi Paradox rears it’s ugly head…

The Fermi Paradox refers to the apparent lack of evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life, when all other probabilistic scientific determinations would indicate that the alternative should be true, and there should be intelligent life out there.

In other words, if we assume that the way life developed on earth is stereotypical of the development of life in general, and that given the same conditions, life should developed again in the same way, then given the high probability of similar conditions existing on other planets in the universe, having existed far longer than the earth has, why have we not seen any evidence this extraterrestrial life?

At first people thought that we simply lacked the technology to detect the signs of this life, but recent scientific advancements have suggested that this may not be the case. It is an interesting dilemma. What I find equally interesting is that in spite of this paradox, the possibility that we were created, as opposed to simply springing out of some prehistoric primordial soup does not seem to have been honestly considered.

I’ve always thought this argument an interesting one, and being that I consider myself both a theist (of sorts) as well as a firm believer in science, I would offer this thought. Maybe we are still not advanced enough to detect extra terrestrial life. Or maybe theists are right, and we were all created. The absence of evidence can never be the evidence of absence, so as a scientist, in my own humble opinion, all I can honestly say is that we simply do not have enough data to rule anything out. Nor should we assume that the two are mutually exclusive…

Just a thought…

The Fermi Paradox is Back – [Slashdot]

The Fermi Paradox: Back with a vengeance – [Sentient Developments]

A SLAPP in the face of a fair legal system…

I read an interesting article about the MPAA and RIAA strategy for dealing with copyright infringment and, in particular, file sharing:

Going up against big guns
For insight into how tough it is to oppose the entertainment sector, consider the conclusions of some long-shot copyright cases Rothken worked on: RecordTV and ReplayTV ran out of funds before their cases were heard, and MP3Board.com settled.

There’s no telling whether the start-ups would have survived had their cases gone to trial, but Rothken argues that shouldering legal fees and bad press didn’t help.

Applying financial pressure is only part of Hollywood’s strategy, Rothken said. Another tactic is to sue founders as well as their companies. In 2000, the RIAA filed a copyright suit against MP3Board.com, a music-file search engine, as well as the company’s founders.

Instead of risking their own income, the operators of MP3Board.com settled the case and decided to stop linking to MP3 files, Rothken said.

“I can’t say what the MPAA’s strategy is,” said Gary Fung, founder of IsoHunt, a TorrentSpy rival and Rothken client who also is being sued by the MPAA for copyright infringement. “But they do know they have more time and money than we do.” – [C/Net News]

There is no doubt that file sharing technologies have contributed to the illegal piracy of music and video. I also cannot argue that the MPAA and the RIAA have a right to file suits against those who decide to share copyrighted works illegally. That being said, this is decidedly not what they are doing. They have taken the decidedly unrealistic approach of attacking the technologies rather than the people doing the file sharing.

The various entertainment associations have sued numerous torrent tracker sites, on the basis that they are helping promote illegal file sharing. Now it may just be me but this seems to me no better than suing the gun industry for the common use of firearms in the commission of crime, or automobile makers for the high incidence of drinking and driving. And as usual, those who use the technology for legitimate purposes are always the ones to suffer.

What is even more distressing to me is not simply the fact that these suits are brought at all, but rather the strategies being used to win these suits. Rather than relying on the strength of the case, the RIAA and MPAA have begun a the methodical practice of SLAPPing defendants into submission. The SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, is designed to ensure a settlement not by virtue of any legal argument, but by wearing down the defendants financial resources until they are unable to afford to continue their defense.

This to me, is the ultimate abuse of the legal system. The fact that this type of activity is legally allowed to happen should be a cause of great concern, even for law abiding American businesses and citizens, because it means that the outcome of future suit brought against you may not be determined by the validity or legal strength of the suit, but rather by who has the most money. And that situation is fundamentally anathema to the concept of a fair and equitable legal system.

TorrentSpy lawyer battling ‘copyright extremism’ – [C/Net News]

Yet another excuse to V-parent…

Technology is great, but is not the answer to everything. Especially not parenting. So I am always skeptical when I see things like this:

The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation Thursday asking the Federal Communications Commission to oversee the development of a super V-chip that could screen content on everything from cell phones to the Internet.

“It’s an uphill battle for parents trying to protect their kids from viewing inappropriate programming,” Pryor said. “I believe there is a whole new generation of technology that can provide an additional layer of help for these parents.”

A third bill that aims to regulate violent content much the same as indecent speech is expected to be introduced soon. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has plans to introduce the anti-violence bill, but it was unclear when. – [Reuters]

OK. For me, the biggest issue here is not what is or is not showing on the radio, TV, internet or other electronic media. It is the fact that we seem to keep coming up with new ways to “help” parents control what their kids watch, when the truth of the matter is that, unless you keep your kids locked in an RF shielded concrete bunker with no electricity, and no communication lines in or out, they will be exposed to things that you may not want them to be.

All of these things, rating systems, censorship, content screening are, at best, crutches for what I feel the real problem is. Americans don’t know how to parent any more. When I was growing up, I saw all kinds of violence (of both the real-life and gratuitous movie variety), bad language, sexually explicit movies, etc. And yet I do not swear like a sailor, drink, smoke, do drugs, have 25 kids by 7 different women, and (to my knowledge) have not stabbed, shot, run over or otherwise maimed or killed anyone lately.

And I believe I know why. Because my parents taught me not to. It is that simple. When I was growing up, I learned, by example, observation and numerous conversations, what constituted good and bad behavior, what was right, what was wrong and why. Now I’m not saying that either I or my parents were/are perfect. Far from it. We were all flawed, as humans beings often are. In fact as I grew older and learned to think for myself, I found I disagreed with many of the things they taught me. But at least they taught me the basics.

Nowadays parenting seems to be a constant struggle between working long hours to make enough money to feed the kids, and either parking them in front of a computer, video game, or TV, so you can get at a measly few hours of sleep before going back to work, or handing them off to someone else to take care of them while you are gone. We are no longer parenting our kids, we are simply housing them until they are of age. The average American doesn’t spend enough time with their kids. Not enough transfer of knowledge occurs, and as a result they don’t properly learn the lessons of right and wrong.

But an even more disturbing trend is that, even when there is sufficient time to engage the children, they often learn the wrong lessons. I come across a video on YouTube the other day showing a father video taping himself insulting someone, with some rather salty language, in front of his kids. Now I recognize that everyones parenting style is different, but I can assure you that if we all adopt the “anything goes” approach in the parenting of our kids, and pay no regard to how we behave around them, then what they see on the TV will be the least of our problems as a nation. We cannot teach our kids tolerance, patience, kindness, generosity, love or any of the values we claim to hold dear, if we do not practice these values ourselves.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. School massacres, snipers, gang violence, kids killing kids, these things do not occur in a vacuum. It is the culture that we have created that is breeding these kids. And as much as I hate to say it, it is not the fault of the media. It is our society that is at fault. And the sooner we recognize that and stop wasting energy on trying to control the inconsequential byproducts of our warped society, like violence in the media, and focus on ourselves and our issues, the sooner we will properly be able to figure out, as a nation, how to handle this growing crises.

IMHO, these silly “V-chips” are yet another useless weapon in an endless battle that we will never win, because we have failed to properly identify our enemy: Ourselves.

It’s super V-chip to the rescue of kids – [Reuters]

U.S. Patents “Out of Bounds” or “Sheer lunacy”?

A recent article attempted to describe the procedural war zone that the patent process has become:

 The U.S. patent system has veered off course and is being abused, executives of three top technology companies said Wednesday.

The problems include damages that are too great, patents for insignificant innovations and poor quality patents that haven’t been researched enough, participants said in a panel discussion at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit in Palo Alto, California.

“The patent system, right now, is tilting out of bounds,” said Chip Lutton, chief patent counsel at Apple Inc. He compared the situation to a bubble market, as companies buy up patents just to use them to get overinflated awards. Courts have failed to rein in these speculators, he said. – [Yahoo/PCWorld]

The patent process in the US has simply failed to keep up with the technology. More importantly, it has failed to properly address the specifics of what defines new technology, and what criteria needs to be met in order for a company to be able to patent these new technologies. As a result, the patent system has been the target of unbelievable levels of abuse.

As I pointed out in a recent post. There are some companies whose only purpose is to patent as many ideas as possible, wait for another company to invest the time, energy and funds to make the idea work, then make a healthy payday by filing patent infringement suits.

The entire patent system needs an overhaul. I believe there is a use and place for patents, but as it currently stands, the patent system no longer functions, and no longer protects the risk takers and true industry innovators. It has been turned into an easy way for those who can’t to make money of the backs of those who do.

I don’t think the phrase “tilting out of bounds” properly captures what is going on. I think the patent process is far beyond bounds. I think it as crossed over to the realm of lunacy, and been completely out of control and for at least a decade and half now…

U.S. Patent System ‘Tilting Out of Bounds’ – [Yahoo/PCWorld]

Johann Sebastian Bach… Crime Fighter…?

The city of Tacoma, Washington is trying out a new gang violence prevention measure. Classical music:

Transit workers are installing speakers this week to pump classical music from Seattle’s KING-FM into the Tacoma Mall Transit Center. The tactic is designed to disperse young criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to circulate between the mall and other trouble-prone places.

The attack by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven follows the theory that prompted the city to stage pinochle games on dangerous street corners: Jolting the routine in such spots throws criminals off balance.

Skeptics include Tony Wilson, a bus driver for 18 years.

It could do one of two things: It could calm the beast, or it could just stir things up,” Wilson said. “I think the reason we don’t have music on the buses is that you can’t please everyone. It would just cause drama.”

Vrahmel Obleanis, 19, playing a Nintendo GameBoy at the mall bus stop, said troublemakers won’t like the orchestral strains, but they’ll probably just move somewhere out of earshot.

They’ll say, ‘This is whack,’ and go over and hang out at the mall or by Babies ‘R’ Us,” Obleanis said. “The music isn’t going to change the attitude of the kids.” – [AP]

OK, I’m not an expert in sociology, but if you stage public events in areas where illegal activities usually occur, aren’t you simply displacing the activity to another part of the city? Somehow I’m not to confident in this particular solution. I’m with the kid and the bus driver on this. Johann Sebastian Bach does not exactly strike fear into the hearts of a would-be thug, or everyone would be walking around with mp3 players loaded with classical music. Not to mention, doesn’t blaring music in a public area 24/7 usually violate some sort of noise ordinance?

Wash. City Fights Gangs With Symphonies – [AP]

Automated plate readers: A violation of civil rights?

The Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Springdale, OH Police department has the local ACLUs panties in a twist over the use of plate scanners on police cruisers:

The Mobile Plate Hunter 900 – two cameras mounted atop a cruiser – can read up to 900 license plates an hour on vehicles driving at highway speeds. …

… “It’s unreal,” Springdale Police Chief Mike Laage said. “It’s the best technology out there.”

The State Highway Patrol has been using the plate hunter in six spots along the Ohio Turnpike, but Springdale police are the first to use it on regular patrols.

Since the patrol began using the scanners in 2004, it has recovered 95 stolen cars – valued at $740,000 – and made 111 arrests, said patrol spokesman Lt. Shawn Davis. The plate hunter has made roads safer, he said. …

… The scanner’s gaze is too wide and it’s an infringement against the innocent drivers whose plates get captured, said Jeff Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Using the plate hunter to scan all license plates is a civil rights violation and could lead to government abuse of the information, Gamso said.

I think they should just knock it off,” Gamso said. “Is the marginal benefit likely outweighing the danger of increased surveillance of everything we do?”

Laage finds nothing wrong with casting the wide net. – [WBNS10TV/AP]

Well I have to admit that I am on the fence on this. This system has many advantages. It is indiscriminate, and does not profile anyone based on color, creed, etc., like a regular police officer could. It is also noninvasive, i.e. traffic stop is not required to do spot checks etc. and it does it’s job while on public roads, where there should be no reasonable expectation of privacy.

But while I can clearly see the advantages of this system, as a law enforcement tool, like any tool, it can be abused. There does not seem to be much difference between this and the covert surveillance of American citizens by government agencies without probable cause or due process.

I’m sure many will agree that we don’t want an America where our every move is observed, logged and recorded by government agencies, and our every action subject to the interpretation of a paranoid. Technologies like this always seem to take us closer, one step at a time, to that scenario…

Plate reader draws objections of ACLU – [WBNS10TV/AP]

Government intelligence goes P2P (and is apparently also an oxymoron…)

Just read a jaw dropping article that described how government employees had inadvertently shared sensitive documents on a P2P network:

Robert Boback, CEO of P-to-P monitoring service vendor Tiversa Inc., and retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, a Tiversa board member, said the company found more than 200 sensitive U.S. government documents during a recent scan of three popular P-to-P networks. The two testified earlier this week before the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. …

… Many lawmakers directed their criticism toward the Lime Group LLC, distributor of the popular P-to-P software Lime Wire, during a contentious hearing Tuesday. But Boback, in a later interview, said his testimony wasn’t intended to cast blame on Lime Wire.

In many cases, P-to-P users override the default security settings in the software. In Lime Wire, the default setting allows users to share files only from a “shared” folder, but many users apparently override the default settings, ignore warnings from the software, and share their entire “my documents” folder or other folders, Lime Group CEO Mark Gorton testified.

In other cases, government employees or contractors apparently ignore policies prohibiting the use of P-to-P software on computers containing sensitive government information, witnesses testified. – [Yahoo/PCWorld.com]

And to top it off, some government officials tried to blame the P2P provider for the breach in security. You know what? I’ve got nuthin’. Just dunno what to say. Either someone has been slippin’ crazy pills into my food, or people are actually thinking less these days. I would much prefer the first alternative to be true…

P-to-P Users Expose U.S. Government Secrets – [Yahoo/PCWorld.com]