Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.
"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist
E-mail me: pmurray [at] despammed.com
Thursday, November 29, 2001
Why did 7 World Trade Center fall? Engineers are trying to figure that out.
"Even though Building 7 didn't get much attention in the media immediately, within the structural engineering community, it's considered to be much more important to understand," said William F. Baker, a partner in charge of structural engineering at the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. "They say, `We know what happened at 1 and 2, but why did 7 come down?' "
Wednesday, November 28, 2001
Followup: the Taliban's representative. On September 21, I noted the irony (explained in The Village Voice) of the Taliban spokesperson in the U.S.: a woman, Laili Helms (and a nice by marriage of a former CIA director). Yesterday the NYT followed up.
Too much of a good thing. U.S. copyright laws, originally designed to protect works for their creators, are strangling culture by only serving large corporations trying to protect their markets, says Stanford law technology professor Lawrence Lessig. (You may remember Lessig as the first court-appointed "special master" in the original Microsoft trial judge; Microsoft managed to get him thrown out of that position.) Two quick pieces of evidence: the songs of Irving Berlin are copyright protected for another 140 years, and five record companies now control 85 percent of music distribution.
Warren Buffett on the stock market. When Warren Buffett, the second richest person in America (he used to be the richest, until a certain monopolist friend passed him), speaks about investing, it's worth paying attention. No bombshells in this essay for Fortune magazine, but worth reading for serious investors.
Trying the Palm. Well, after more than a year of toying with the idea, I have dipped my toe into the Palm waters. I found a deal on the m100 that was simply too good to pass up. So now I'll find out if I'm really going to use it or not!
Tuesday, November 27, 2001
Paul Hume, R.I.P. Paul Hume has died. (Pause to let history buffs search their memories.) Hume was the Washington Post music critic who panned a Margaret Truman concert, which provoked a blistering letter from her father, President Harry Truman. Of course, there's more to it than that; read this article to learn more about the incident, its aftermath, and about Hume himself (who was a very talented individual).
What is this war really about? My brother has introduced me to the insights and clarity of Thomas Friedman, who writes editorials for The New York Times. In his November 27 piece, Friedman makes the argument that we are in a war against religious totalitarianism (contrasted with the secular totalitarianism of the Nazis and Communists).
Monday, November 26, 2001
Duhhhhhh. The record industry is not only fanatical about maintaining control over recorded music, they are clueless about how people want to use it. Apparently they expect you to buy additional copies of music for every playback device.
Principles. Most non-journalists have never heard of Vanessa Leggett. She has the distinction of being jailed longer than any other journalist in U.S. history, for refusing to talk to a federal grand jury. But it's not quite that simple, and the author of the linked article speculates about the prosecutor's possible motives. (via MediaNews)
Humor. I found this too amusing to let go by. What if David Mamet had written "2001: A Space Odyssey"? (Note strong language.)
Sunday, November 25, 2001
The scary group inside the Bush Administration. There's a group of gung-ho types that see the destruction of Al-Queda as not an end, but a beginning. They want to go into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Colin Powell thinks this would be a terrible idea, and CIA sources describe them as "more than a little nuts." Meanwhile, the shouting matches continue. Read about it from The Village Voice. (via Robot Wisdom)
Saturday, November 24, 2001
What freedom of speech? NYT reports that college campuses across the country are seeing battles over the right of free expression since September 11.
Wednesday, November 21, 2001
Making the credit card industry nervous. Online merchants are 16 times more likely to be defrauded than "real world" ones. But that's not what concerns the credit card companies and banks (since they don't lose the money, of course); what worries them is the PayPal digital cash service. PayPal offers merchants significantly lower costs because it can reduce that fraud figure by 60 percent. Merchants are signing up like crazy, investors are throwing money at them, and banks are trying to create their own versions to preserve their business. Read about it in the Technology Review. (via Tomalak's Realm)
More "help" from lawyers. I'm convinced that lawyers don't "get" the computer business. First the Justice Department gives Microsoft a slap on the wrist after spending years finally proving that Microsoft is a monopoly that abused its power. Now lawyers suing Microsoft in civil court are going to settle for a $1 billion donation of software and computers to the nation's schools. What could be wrong with that? It increases the installed base of Windows users, and effectively blocks alternatives such as Apple and Linux, because why would schools pay for them? Microsoft must practice some form of reverse judo mind control; when cornered by a weaker opponent, they always manage to convince them to do something stupid.
Tuesday, November 20, 2001
Free to be an idiot. It's guys like this that can make you question the First Amendment and the whole freedom-of-speech thing.
Told you so. As predicted here, the latest attempt to apply copy protection to compact discs has prevented it from being played on some CD and DVD players, and ticked off UK purchasers of Natalie Imbruglia's new CD, forcing BMG to replace them. The attempts to strangle "fair use" continue...
Aiming for perfection. I'm not a big sports fan. Teams like the Detroit Lions don't help. But then, there's a perverse sense of amazement at their, ahem, perfect record this year. I was already having this thought, but Mitch Albom crystalized it today in his column.
Osama has nukes! Wait... never mind. British reporters searching a purported al-Quida safe house in Kabul breathlessly reported finding documents explaining how to build an atomic bomb. The document is from the Internet, as you might expect. Just one problem: it's a spoof dating from 1979.
Man bites dog. On his web site, Michael Fraase described the tactics he uses against spammers, and used as an example someone named Jim Hobuss. According to Fraase, Hobuss not only ducked the financial obligation he incurred, he became abusive. Hobuss had his lawyer send a letter demanding the removal of his name; naturally, Fraase has posted it along with his response. Hobuss essentially calls Fraase a liar and says that "consequential and more severe actions will be initiated." (via politechbot)
Tourist Guy unmasked. Weeks ago, I linked to a site with a picture purportedly found in the rubble of an unlucky tourist atop the World Trade Center, with an airliner in the background and the date "9-11-01." It was obviously fake to me, but not to at least one television station that showed it (my grad school advisor saw it). The photo inspired a torrent of parodies (some tasteless and some very clever), including one from a co-worker of mine who would prefer to remain nameless. (Hint: said co-worker's contribution is on page 14 at the previous link.) All of this is a long preamble to the news that we now know who Tourist Guy really is: Peter (he won't give his last name) from Hungary. He says it was only meant for a few friends; that's life on the net.
Sunday, November 18, 2001
"This is a real monster," cont'd. Respected journalist Richard Reeves weighs in on President Bush's executive order (see my entry for 11/2/2001) that effectively shields presidential papers from ever becoming public. He observes, "If truth is the first casualty in all war, in this one, complete and candid history will be the second."
Friday, November 16, 2001
Dividing the gifts. Businesses near and far have been donating gifts to the New York City Fire Department, and the question became, how should they be divided?
Islam in forward or reverse? Interesting commentary from the NYT about where the Islamic world finds itself. And here's the complete Pakistani letter that it quotes from.
Tuesday, November 13, 2001
If today's media covered WWII. Christopher Buckley wrote this short humorous piece for the WSJ last week, which is where I read it. I was too lazy/busy to see if it was online, but Drudge wasn't.
Thursday, November 08, 2001
Bet Arthur Clarke didn't foresee this. The last barrier to reaching Mars may be... keeping astronauts from developing kidney stones.
We can see you! It appears that we have Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's number. Literally. His license plate number, that is.
Wednesday, November 07, 2001
An oxymoron for our times: the concept of an "anarchy club." And yes, as the old graffiti put it, apparently anarchy is against the law... at least in high school.
Dumping broadband? The first reports are appearing of consumers dropping their high-speed Internet connections. The relatively high cost has a lot to do with it, and some attribute a September 11 effect. (I guess we're late on the bandwagon again; my brother and I just got our cable connection.)
Xmas dinner with Martha... not. I've never been able to imagine working for Martha Stewart, and stories like this are why. She wants her employees to take turns holding Christmas dinners for each other, instead of throwing a company dinner. And she's peeved at the unenthusiastic response.
Monday, November 05, 2001
Stop snickering. The New Yorker reports that Bill Clinton's office is looking for an intern. (via Obscure Store)
Settlement or sellout? Dan Gillmor uses the harshest and most accurate language yet to describe the Justice Department's proposed settlement with Microsoft. CNET has a list of possible loopholes. The only good news is that at least some states seem reluctant to go along, and the EU is still on the case.
Saturday, November 03, 2001
Grammar watch. Many, many years ago, Wolcott Gibbs wrote a biographical article for The New Yorker about Henry Luce, the founder of what was then Time-Life. Gibbs parodied an odd writing style that Time magazine used, reaching its peak in the legendary sentence, "Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind." I was reminded of this when reading Michael Kinsley's column "TV News Killing Our Precious Verbs." It's quite entertaining.
Friday, November 02, 2001
Trying to strangle "fair use." Finally someone (unnamed) in the record business admits what copy protection efforts are what it's really all about:
"The music business has a problem. They have one way to get revenue: selling CDs,'' said one industry insider. "We're trying to limit what we're selling to you when we sell a CD, so that we can have other services.''
"This is a real monster." That's how one historian characterizes an executive order signed by George Bush on Novermber 1st. It allows a past president or a current president to block historians and researchers from access to presidential papers. And those who want to try and see them must show "at least a 'demonstrated, specific need' " for the records. This "reinterprets" the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which was taking effect with Ronald Reagan's papers.
"White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales... said the White House did not create any new privileges or obstacles but 'simply implemented an orderly process to deal with this information.'" Right.
Need we point out that many Reagan/Bush officials are now serving again? Could there be something left to hide? And just whose papers are they, anyway? Don't they belong to the American public? This is a cover-up, maybe not of anything specific, but it's still presidents trying to keep their dirty little secrets long after they have left office.
Will Saudi Arabia be another Iran? That's what I'm wondering. Like Iran in 1979, Saudi Arabia has some Muslims who want to throw out their rulers and create an Islamic state. (Yes, that's one of Osama bin Laden's goals.) For years, the rulers have walked a fine line, on one hand encouraging Islamic fervor when it suits them, and repressing it at other times while convincing the West to defend them. So what happens if they lose power... and we lose the world's leading exporter of oil?
And speaking of Iran... NYT mentions a startling fact: two-thirds of Iran's current population was born after the 1979 revolution. Which helps explain the rise of moderates in that country. Conservative forces are trying to stir up anti-US feelings, but it's not working so well.
Thursday, November 01, 2001
Microsoft rigging numbers to ensure XP "success"? In a commentary, an IS manager explains how Microsoft's recent license changes will inflate the numbers of Windows XP users. Basically, businesses using the license agreements are forced to license XP, even if they are really using a previous version, such as Windows 2000. But Microsoft will surely report the number of licenses as the number of XP users.